This is one of my favorite side dishes; it's pretty on the plate, yummy to eat, unique enough to invite interest, and way easy to make. Israeli couscous is nothing like its Moroccan cousin; while both are made from durum semolina, their preparation methods are quite different. Moroccan couscous is made by steaming in a special pot (a couscousiere); or by absorbing boiling water and fluffed.
Israeli couscous was invented by one of Tel Aviv's largest food companies, Osem (which is owned by Nestlé). The pasta is extruded, then toasted over an open flame to dry, giving the pasta a nice, nutty flavor. The result is a large, pearl shaped pasta.
It's a wonderfully versatile grain -- a great pasta with sauces, a creamy risotto -- anything you can do with pasta or rice, you can probably do with Israeli couscous. You can serve this salad warm or cold. I've found that it's a great accompaniment to a roasted fish like salmon, or a steak, providing a light taste counterpoint. This is my particular mix of ingredients, but heaven knows there are infinite combinations. I do find, though, that the dried cranberries provide a nice tart sweetness and lovely color. Enjoy.
Israeli Couscous Salad
1 cup Israeli couscous (you cannot substitute with Moroccan couscous)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 T olive oil, divided
2 cups dried cranberries (craisins)
1 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup spring onions, white parts only, chopped
1/2 medium sized red onion, finely chopped
1 oz cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 shallot, minced
sea salt to taste
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add the couscous and stir about 1 minute, until the couscous is lightly browned. Stir in 2 cups of broth.* Cover with a lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the couscous has absorbed most of the liquid and is al dente. Drain in a colander but do not rinse. (Another method I've used occasionally to rapidly cool the couscous if it's a little too creamy is to spread the hot couscous on a cookie tray in a thin layer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes). Once cooled, stir in the remaining 3 T olive oil to coat and separate the grains. I use a wooden spoon to gently break up the grains in a serving bowl.
In a serving dish, combine the couscous with craisins, pine nuts, spring onions, red onion, cilantro, lemon zest and shallots. Spritz with lemon juice and adjust seasoning with the sea salt to taste.
Note: This can be a very seasonal dish; simply dice additional fresh vegetables (butternut squash in the fall, zucchini in the summer) and toss in.
* Of course, you can always boil it in plain water as you would pasta and drain it; but I prefer the extra boost of flavor that comes from using a broth.