Monday, August 29, 2011

Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms & Peppers

Israeli couscous, often referred to as pearl pasta because of its small round shape and chewy texture, is not couscous at all, but a small round pasta made of hard-wheat flour. Originally developed at Israel’s Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s request to the Osem Food Company to create a rice-substitute, Israeli couscous is often referred to as 'Ben-Gurion’s rice,' or Ptitim.

Although Israeli couscous and the familiar yellow semolina-based African couscous are both miniature wheat pastas, the similarities end there. The original African couscous is made by rubbing durum semolina and water into small course granules about the size of bread crumbs. Because they're so small and tender, they require only a few minutes of steeping in hot water or broth, or if you're in Morocco, steamed in a special pot — a couscousiere.

Israeli couscous is extruded pasta made from bulgur, which is toasted rather than dried, which gives it a unique, chewy, nutty flavor. Each pearl is a few millimeters in size, and takes just a few minutes to cook, thanks to its small size. With its al-dente texture and buttery flavour, Israeli couscous is perfect as a base for savoury summer salads, much like Italian orzo. Fast and easy to prepare, Israeli couscous is a delicious alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes, and can be used in many different types of dishes, both hot and cold. They also retain their shape and texture even when reheated, and unlike traditional North African couscous, doesn't clump together once it's cooked. 

I prepared my couscous with some sautéed onions, sliced cremini mushrooms, mixed bell peppers and and pinch of saffron, which gave the dish a lovely golden hue. Served with Mediterranean-inspired marinated rack of lamb and creamy tzatziki, the Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms and Peppers offered a tasty addition to our al fresco evening on the terrace.

Israeli couscous with Mediterranean-inspired rack of lamb and tazatziki

Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms & Peppers
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups of water
1/8 tsp of saffron threads
9 oz. Israeli couscous
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup onions, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup yellow and red bell peppers
salt and pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

Boil water in a medium saucepan. Add saffron and the couscous. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the couscous to absorb the water before fluffing. 

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions, peppers and mushrooms and sauté until tender. Fluff couscous and transfer to a larger bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables and the rest of the ingredients to the couscous, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving.