Monday, October 12, 2009
My Venture into Couscous
I can hear what you're thinking. "Couscous and Lentils?! I never cook with that stuff. This sounds too exotic for me." Don't be afraid! Couscous is nothing but granules of semolina (durum wheat) – the same stuff pasta is made out of. Lentils are a member of the legume family (like beans) and cook up in no time. In fact, the couscous and lentils each take only about 5 minutes to cook so you can throw this dish together really fast. There is nothing strange or exotic about their flavors. In fact, by themselves, they are a little on the bland side – like plain rice and beans would be.
I used to be a vegetarian and fixed this dish all of the time. Yes, it is healthy. Yes, it's protein rich. Yes, it's pretty to look at – but I didn't make it all of the time for any of those reasons. I fixed it because it is SO GOOD! It is truly very refreshing to eat. In fact, I could eat this entire dish in one setting so I REALLY have to control myself when I make it. It's great for picnics and potlucks. It's perfect at lunch. I woke up a while ago and just ate some for breakfast. I know, I know! I need help!
From the picture, you will notice that I forgot to add the slivered almonds. Ooops! You can certainly leave them out but I like the crunch they add to the dish. I sometimes add some finely, finely grated parmesan cheese to the dish as well. The cheese gives it a little extra flavor in the background. I didn't add it this time because I have a doctor's appointment in a couple of days. I always try to eat healthier right before going to the doctor so when he asks me if I have been dieting and eating healthful foods, I can say "Oh, yeah! Sure!" I tell you – if I had to go to the doctor every week, I'd weigh 13 pounds because I'd be forced to eat healthy all of the time. Let's hope my doctor is not reading this.
Anyway, don't let these unusual ingredients freak you out. You will love this dish! Enjoy – and happy couscousing!
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Mediterranean Couscous Salad
5 1/4 cups water, divided use
1/2 cup lentils (I use red but you can use any color)
1/3 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 pinches salt
2 TBSP chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I use 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup couscous
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (very optional)
In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and the lentils. Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Taste the lentils. If they are not yet soft, cook another couple of minutes and taste again. You might have to cook yours for as long as 15 minutes. The important thing is to cook the lentils until they are JUST barely soft or they will quickly turn to mush. Drain and rinse the lentils under cool water. Allow the lentils to drain fully while preparing the remaining ingredients.
While the lentils are cooking, heat about 1 cup of water to boiling in the microwave. Add the water to the finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes to allow them to rehydrate some. Some brands of sun-dried tomatoes are particularly dry. Some are more moist. The kind I normally purchase are fairly moist so I only let them soak about 5 minutes. Soak them as long as you want to get your desired level of softness. When the tomatoes have rehydrated to your liking, drain off the water and add the tomatoes to a large bowl.
To the same bowl with the tomatoes, add the shallots, garlic, lemon zest, carrots, almonds, salt, basil, lemon juice, and olive oil. Whisk together and set aside while you prepare the couscous.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil then add the salt and slowly stir in the couscous. Cover the saucepan, take it off the heat, and let it rest for 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff the couscous. Let the couscous cool, uncovered, for about 5 minutes – stirring every minute or so with a fork.
Add the lentils to the bowl with the other ingredients. Add the couscous and stir to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later use.
1) I use extra-virgin olive oil in mine. However, if you are not used to using extra-virgin olive oil, choose your brand of olive oil wisely. If you do not like the flavor of your olive oil, the other flavors in this dish will not disguise that.
2) I like tart things. I normally add 1/3 of a cup of lemon juice, which makes this dish very lemony. I think that's a good thing. Some of you, however, may want to add a smaller amount (such as 1/4 cup of lemon juice). If needed, you can add a little more after you have tasted it at the end.
3) You can make this a day in advance and keep it refrigerated. If you do, I highly recommend that you use the full 1/3 cup of lemon juice because the flavors mellow a lot in the fridge.
4) You can find tri-colored couscous in many supermarkets nowadays. This adds a lot of festiveness to the dish. Couscous can be usually be found in the same aisle as rice or beans (or in the ethnic aisle). In my store, it is also sold in small packages in the produce section next to the packages of sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, etc.
5) Don't want to use lentils? No problem. You can use a can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained.
Posted by Cooking Ventures at 6:07 AM