When it comes to versatility, you can't do much better than couscous. Typically a fine granular semolina pasta, couscous works in both savory and sweet dishes, and can be served hot or cold. Like pasta, add vegetables and/or meat for a main dish, or perhaps fold it in with lightly dressed lettuces or herbs for a salad. Sweeten it and add milk, nuts and/or fruit for a sweet finish to a meal.
A perfect dish for summer, Houston's couscous combines raisins, tomatoes, almonds and parsley with fresh chopped radish and green onion. The couscous and bulgur wheat salad is brightened with fresh mint and a dash of lemon juice, and comes together in about an hour.
Vertical Wine Bistro's variation features large, pearly couscous flavored with chopped fresh herbs and garlic and a touch of bright tang from lemon juice and vinegar. It's rounded out with complex notes from the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout. The dish is perfect made ahead of time to give the flavors time to marry before serving.
Or try a basic quick couscous recipe as a springboard for your own variation. Though classic couscous can take over an hour for the granules to steam using a couscousier, quick couscous plumps and becomes tender in just minutes when combined with boiling water.
Total time: 40 minutes, plus cooling time
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: Adapted from Hillstone Restaurant Group
3 cups water, divided
1/2 cup couscous
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
3/4 cup coarsely chopped radishes
3 tablespoons finely cut green onions
3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1/2 cup raisins
12 very small tomatoes, such as Sweet 100s
1/3 cup whole roasted, skin-on almonds
About ½ cup whole fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, preferably Meyer lemon, more to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer. Add the couscous and cook gently until the water is absorbed, approximately 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer the couscous to a baking sheet to cool.
2. In another small saucepan, bring the remaining 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer. Add the bulgur wheat and cook gently until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a baking sheet to cool.
3. In a large bowl, combine the cooled couscous and bulgur wheat. Stir in the radishes, green onions, parsley, raisins, tomatoes, almonds and mint leaves. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, stirring to coat. Season with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Taste and adjust the flavorings and seasonings as desired. This makes about 4 cups salad.
Each of 6 servings: 209 calories; 6 grams protein; 34 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fiber; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 9 grams sugar; 206 mg sodium.
Vertical Wine Bistro's Israeli couscous
45 minutes, plus chilling time. Serves 6 to 8
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ras el hanout
1 (8.78-ounce) package Israeli couscous
Chicken or vegetable broth (typically 2 cups broth per 1 cup couscous, or as the package directs)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-low heat. Add the white onion and ras el hanout and sweat until the onion is translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the couscous over low heat and stir for 3 minutes, then add the broth. Raise heat to bring to a boil, and cook until the couscous is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Spread the cooked couscous onto a shallow rimmed pan to cool, stirring occasionally.
2. In a large bowl, combine the red and green onions, bell pepper, tarragon, mint, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and remaining oil along with the couscous, gently mixing with your hands to separate the couscous and fold together the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to give the flavors time to marry. Remove from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving to come to room temperature, and stir once more before serving.
Each of 8 servings: 213 calories; 4 grams protein; 29 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 218 mg sodium.
NOTE: Adapted from Vertical Wine Bistro; the restaurant suggests adding freshly grilled chicken, scallops or shrimp. Ras el hanout can generally be found at cooking supply stores, as well as gourmet markets, many well-stocked supermarkets and online.
Total time: 20 minutes
1 pound (2½ cups) couscous
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups boiling water
6 tablespoons hot broth
Additional broth, soup or stew (for serving)
1. Put couscous in a sauté pan. Add salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Pour boiling water over couscous, return just to a simmer, remove from the heat and cover tightly. Set aside off the heat until the couscous is just tender, about 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle the remaining oil over the couscous, tossing lightly with a fork and rubbing the couscous between your fingers if necessary to remove any clumps. Slowly add 6 tablespoons broth, tossing lightly. Serve hot, with more broth for moistening the couscous at the table.