My first introduction to couscous was in the form of a North African detective as seen here:
Yeah, a little racist looking at it from an adult perspective, huh?
My brother was a big fan of Richard Scarry as a young’un (or, more likely, my mom and I used him as an excuse to watch cartoons as we so often did). I remember her explaining that couscous was actually a food, not just a canine imperialist, and serving it for dinner (the pasta, not the dog). At the time, it seemed so exotic. I don’t even remember whether I liked it or not. Now, couscous is one of the staples in my kitchen.
For a few years, it has served primarily as the base for my go-to potluck recipe. I used it just this week to bring to a tailgate party at Angels stadium because it’s the perfect stand in for the traditional pasta salad. The couscous reduces the carb content, and it’s not packed with a ton of mayo. Even better, it tastes great and you can be sure that you’ll be serving an original dish.
Fancy Schmancy Pasta Salad*
1 8 oz box of Israeli couscous. This type is also called pearl couscous and is available at many stores, including Trader Joe’s.
1 T olive oil
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of mint
1 T Lemon juice
1 large cucumber cubed
2 Roma tomatoes cubed
2 small red peppers cubed (I use one red and one orange or yellow for color)
3/4 c crumbled feta cheese
1/2 bottle of Goddess dressing (available at Trader Joe’s and other natural food stores) or other Greek salad dressing
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the dry couscous. Cook over medium high heat until lightly browned. Slowly add enough hot water to cover the couscous by about an inch. Add the oregano, mint and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until the water is absorbed. Test the couscous to see if it is tender. If it isn’t add another 1/2 cup of water and let that absorb. Repeat until the couscous is tender. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. (Bonus! If you want a nice side dish you can stop here for a lemon and herbed couscous.)
Let the couscous cool, preferably overnight in the fridge. If you do put it in the fridge, fluff it up again after transferring it to a covered bowl so it doesn’t clump up. Once cool, add the cucumber, tomato, peppers, and feta cheese. Add the dressing to taste.
You can also try adding kalamata olives, pine nuts, artichoke hearts and anything else you think might be tasty. This recipe leaves a lot of room for improvisation!
*this recipe is not guaranteed to catch Pepe Le Gangster or his dirty rats