Do You Couscous?

My least favorite place in the kitchen is what I call “side dish hell”.  Like most people, when I’m thinking about dinner, I’m thinking in terms of an entree. These days, I usually try to come up two vegetable sides dishes, just because it’s a healthier way to eat.  But all too often, I forget about grains.

And then I remember couscous. There are all kinds of this wonderful semolina product in the market, including several instant varieties that take only minutes to prepare. In the last few years, a larger couscous has appeared, under the names Israeli, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, etc.  No matter the name, the grains of this couscous are much larger than it’s instant cousin, about the size of a peppercorn.

Like polenta, couscous is a medium, an excellent vehicle for seasonings, vegetables and additional flavors.  This recipe, a favorite of Jacques Pepin,  goes well with just about any protein and can be put on your table in a flash.

Middle Eastern Couscous with  Saffron
Serves 4

2T extra virgin olive oil
2/3C onion, finely chopped
1/4C pumpkin seeds
About 1t crushed saffron threads
1C Israeli couscous
1 1/2C chicken broth, low sodium
1/4t kosher salt
1/4t freshly ground black pepper
4 springs fresh tarragon or parsley for garnish

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat and add onion, pumpkin seeds and saffron. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the couscous and mix well. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, mix well, bring to boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, for 2-3 minutes more to dry the grains and make them fluffy. Serve garnished with herbs.

It’s fast, healthy, delicious and looks beautiful on the plate. Sounds like side dish heaven to me.

Couscous pic courtesy of
Saffron pic courtesy of

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ. (c) All Rights Reserved, 2009

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