Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ina Garten's Moroccan Couscous

Embarrassing confession - I had never even heard of couscous until I was in my mid twenties. I was living in San Francisco working at an ad agency and a coworker brought some in for her lunch. Looking at the fluffy little grains in the bowl, I had no idea what it was but thought it was so tres chic...

The funny thing is couscous is anything but tres chic. Its origins are quite humble and it could not be easier to make (easier than rice and not as moody.) It's actually coarsely ground durum wheat and it has been a staple in parts of the Middle East, West Africa, Portugal, and even France for centuries. If you're unfamiliar with it, you might have eaten it without knowing what it was in the Greek side dish Tabbouleh. But it took me seeing Ina Garten make it on Barefoot Contessa to realize how truly approachable it is (ah the wonders of the Food Network!)

I now know that couscous is a home cook's best friend. Keep it in the pantry (along with a vast supply of chicken stock) and you've got a side dish in less than twenty minutes that you can dress up or tweak to compliment whatever you're serving as your main course. In a real pinch it can even be the main course, fortified with some toasted nuts, cut up rotisserie chicken, or tofu. Or you could stuff leftover couscous in yellow bell peppers and bake them...or you could probably think of something even more imaginative.

I made it last night to serve with my favorite double cut pork chops and was reminded again of its uncanny ability to make any meal look show stopping.

But pretty on a plate is one thing. The fact that it's so tasty and fast is what makes me serve it over and over again. What dishes did you used to find intimidating before you made them?

Ina Garten's Moroccan Couscous with Tweaks
Serves 6-8.
* This recipe calls for original plain couscous, not the 'pearl' variety. I prefer the Near East brand.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped shallots
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 cups original plain couscous (not pearl)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup dried cherries or currants or raisins
1/2 cup chopped green onions, optional (you can also use basil, parsley, or cilantro or a mixture)

Add the butter and oil to a medium pan with a lid and bring to low/medium heat to melt the butter. Once melted add the shallots seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently for about 4-5 minutes until all the shallots have softened and become translucent. Add the chicken stock and put on high heat bringing to a boil.

Once boiling, kill the heat and add the couscous, stirring it in until it's thoroughly mixed in (try and do this quickly - shouldn't take more than a few seconds.) Put the lid on and let the couscous sit and absorb the stock for at least 10 minutes. The beauty is you can leave it for up to 30 minutes if other things are taking longer.

When ready to serve, gently 'fluff' the couscous with a fork, just raking the fork over and through the couscous lightly to 'unbundle' any clumps and lighten it up. Stir in the nuts or seeds, dried fruit, and any fresh herbs if desired.

Serve warm.


Jenn said...

I hadn't heard of couscous until I was in my late 20's so don't feel too bad! Couscous was not something you found on a lot of tables in the Midwest!! I do love it now though, unfortunately it's something Chris is not that fond of! Silly picky eater!!
I think the most intimidating dish I ever made was pizza dough, and I just kicked butt on that one last week!!!

Mary said...

You did a really great job with this recipe. I know I would have enjoyed this meal. Aren't Ina's recipes great? I hope you are having a good day. Blessings...Mary