Couscous has become one of my new favorite old things. While folks in North Africa and the Middle East have been enjoying the stuff for centuries, we here in the U.S. are just developing a fondness for the grain-like little balls of semolina. If you’ve never had it, couscous—specifically, in this case, pearl, or Israeli, couscous—has a chewy texture similar to bulgur wheat or steel-cut oats, and a warm, nutty flavor. Like pasta, it is made from semolina, but whereas pasta is made by mixing the semolina flour with egg and water, couscous is made by carefully rubbing the semolina between moistened hands until it begins to form tiny, little balls. The resulting “grains” are then steamed and served just about any way you can imagine. Whether you want it hot or cold, savory or even a little sweet, the options are endless with this versatile, ancient food. It’s easily paired with your favorite veggies and herbs for a tasty new dish, every time. I’ve chosen a couple of my favorite go-to ingredients: garlic, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and thyme.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1 1/2 c. dry pearl/Israeli couscous
2 1/2 c. beef stock (chicken or vegetable stock or water are also fine), approximately
1/4 c. olive oil, approximately, divided
1c. finely diced yellow onion
3-4 T. minced garlic
8 oz. mushrooms (any kind will do; I’ve used baby portobellos)
3 T. fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for topping
In a large skillet over medium heat, add half of the oil. Once the oil has heated until it is shimmering, add the onions with a sprinkle of salt, and let them sauté until they are translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and continue to sauté until the mushrooms have lost most of their moisture and both are caramelized and deep brown. This may take up to 15 minutes, so turn the heat down a little if you need to.
While the veggies are cooking, put a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and add the remaining oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the dry couscous. Stir it well to coat with oil, and then stir it often to prevent it from burning. You just want to toast it until it darkens a few shades, which should take about 5 minutes. So don’t walk off and take the dog out or anything.
Once the couscous is nicely toasted, the veggies should be ready. Pour about 1/4 cup of your stock into the veggie pan to deglaze all the brown bits from the pan, and pour it into the pot with the couscous. Add the rest of the broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the herbs after 10 minutes. When most of the liquid has been absorbed, try the couscous for doneness. If you find it still a little to al dente, add a splash (1/4 c.) more broth and simmer another 5 minutes.
Serve hot and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Yum!