Has anyone else ever had arguments about whether couscous is a pasta or a grain? It is probably just me…
I am in the couscous is a pasta camp, and have tried to sway others. Sometimes we just agree to disagree and I don’t really feel like arguing about something a bit trivial. We can both agree that couscous is delicious, though.
Couscous is made from coarse durum wheat semolina, which comes from the endosperm of the durum wheat kernel. The traditional recipe uses durum wheat and semolina with a bit of salt. Water is added by the handful to moisten the mixture. The couscous pellets are sieved multiple times.
It sounds like pasta to me, but created with a healthier whole-grain flour. Compared to traditional pasta, it has a 25% reduced glycemic load per gram and contains higher amounts of protein and vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and thiamin.
Couscous is prominent in North African cuisine, including Morocco, but also Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. Each country flavours it differently – Moroccans flavour it with saffron and use it as a side to their tagines, Algerian made add tomatoes and Tunisians made add tomatoes. Earlier this year, I made a side of cinnamon-scented couscous with my Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Dates and Almonds and really appreciated how it became fluffy with the additional steam in the oven. Couscous is easily found commercially-made, and available in different sizes: fine, medium and coarse.
This time, I wanted to try something different with Israeli (pearl, or coarse) couscous. Adapted from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers, I liked how the roasted vegetables paired with the plump couscous, and the lemon added a lightness and brightness to the dish.
Israeli Couscous Salad with Roasted Vegetables
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow zucchini, diced
2 yellow/red peppers, cored and diced
1 medium eggplant, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise (do not peel)
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound pearl (Israeli) couscous
2 tbsp parsley, minced (optional)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Divide the zucchini, peppers, eggplant, onion and garlic cloves between 2 baking sheets (don’t crowd the vegetables or they will steam instead of roast) and drizzle 2 tbsp of the oil. Mix well. Season with salt and bake until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 25-30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook the large couscous in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to the package directions. Drain well and add 1 tbsp of the oil. Shake strainer to incorporate oil and let couscous cool.
3. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from the baking sheet and remove their skins. In a small bowl, mash the garlic with a fork. Add the dressing ingredients: lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tbsp oil and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and mix with the dressing. Stir in the vegetables and parsley, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serves 4-6 as a main course.