Spiced Israeli couscous salad with tender, chewy couscous, sweet apricots, refreshing mint and lime, and crunchy pistachios will delight your mouth with a variety of flavors and textures. But wait, there’s more. This healthy, oil-free salad can be made in just 25 minutes from prep to table. Grab a medium pot and let’s cook us some couscous!
I’m excited. Wait. What's Israeli couscous?
Great question! For years, I was under the impression that couscous was a tiny grain, like a soft version of quinoa. Wrong.
First, couscous is a pasta, not a grain. These days, couscous is mass-produced using machines, initially, it was made using durum wheat (semolina) that was moistened then tossed with finely ground wheat flour from which little balls were formed.
Second, there are three, yes, three kinds of couscous. Small, Moroccan couscous is available in most supermarkets. It looks a bit like polenta or teff and cooks up quickly when added to boiling hot water. There is also a giant kind, Lebanese couscous, which personally, I’ve only rarely run across. Possibly that’s because I’ve never been intentionally searching for it or saw it and didn’t know what I was looking at.
Israeli (pearl) couscous
At about the size of a peppercorn, Israeli is the middle child of the not grain, but pasta, quick-cooking, make a great salad couscous world. I often find it labeled as pearl couscous, but if you run across the name Jerusalem or even giant couscous, it's all the same thing. Personally, I use Israeli and pearl interchangeably. And I realize that when I made pomegranate couscous salad, I made the assumption that I was referring to pearl couscous because my head was all about the size of the pomegranate and Israeli couscous fits that perfectly.
And should you run across something that looks like Israeli couscous, called Ptitim, you guess it. Same thing. Ptitim was the first official name of those little roasted pasta balls that were put into service in the 1950s in Israel when rice was scarce. Necessity, that grand motivator of invention spurned its development. It was for all good intentions, a wheat substitute for a rice shortage.
Fortunately for us, people loved it so much that even when rice grew plentiful, demand for this slightly chewy, slightly smooth ingredient just kept growing. Equally fortunate, at least for me, the name Ptitim was changed to couscous. Maybe I can’t say couscous fast five times in a row, but I’ve got a better chance than with Ptitim for sure.
How do you cook Israeli couscous?
The first step for cooking any kind of couscous is to look – at the package directions. The couscous most of us buy is ‘quick-cooking’ which means just that. It’s fast and the smaller, the faster. Moroccan couscous is so quick, it just needs to be added to a pot of boiling water with the heat off, covered, and then allowed to ‘cook’. The Israeli (pearl) couscous for this recipe, likes to be covered and simmered for about 10 minutes once you get the pot to boiling.
How much couscous? How much water?
Again, let's read first, but if you are more confident with rules or you, like me, require it because you read the package directions after somethings cooking or hasn't turned out right, let's get us a rule. For cooking couscous, that's 1 ½ to 1, water to couscous ratio. When all the water or other liquid is absorbed the couscous is usually done. If it is still crunchy, resist the temptation to add more water. Cover it back up for another 5 minutes.
When you are simmering your pearl couscous, be mindful not to get the heat too high. It's easy to forget about it and have an overflow situation. It's the same problem I have with rice, so while a watched pot won't boil faster, I swear unwatched pot seems to get there quicker. You also don't want to keep it going and be left with a layer of stuck-on couscous on the bottom of the pan.
With a texture somewhere between chewy pearl barley and pasta, Israeli couscous loves simmering for 10 minutes with a few spices and in our case a bit of garlic and lime zest. Grab that pot and prep everything because this is going to be a quick one.
I might claim a rich and sometimes torrid history of food, I’m no food historian, but I’m always drawn in by how and why food came to be. Stories about scarcity clearing the creative path for the introduction of something new is a constant not limited to food. But it can't be denied that availability shapes what we eat. It's the old joke about the 'seafood diet', we see it, we eat it.
When you can’t find your favorite food on the shelf, rather than let that derail all your good intentions, you might consider it an opportunity. Not to run off screaming to the doughnut isle, but to try something new. Maybe that’s Israeli couscous or turning it into a spiced salad you hadn’t considered before. It doesn’t mean a pass for your nutritional aspirations, but a chance to get creative with what is right in front of you. Peace.Print
Spiced Israeli couscous salad with tender, chewy pearl couscous, apricots, mint, lime, and pistachios will delight you with refreshing flavors and textures.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous (300 gm.)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
- Zest of 1 lime
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup chopped mint leaves
- ½ cup diced dried apricots
- ½ cup shelled pistachios (try to use salt-free)
- Juice of 2 limes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a medium pot to medium heat.
- Add the garlic and saute it for 30 seconds.
- Add the couscous and toast it for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the cinnamon stick, cumin cardamom, lime zest, and water. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cover the pot.
- Simmer the couscous for 10 minutes until the water is absorbed. Immediately turn off the heat and allow it to sit, covered for 5 minutes.
- Fluff the couscous with a spoon or fork and mix in the chopped mint, apricots, pistachios and lime juice.
- Serve warm or cold.
- If there is water remaining after cooking and allowing it to sit for 5 minutes, allow it to sit covered for a few minutes longer. The steam from the pot will help absorb any liquid.
- Personally, we love lime with this spice profile, however, you can substitute the zest and juice of a small orange or a lemon is you want it tangier. You can also mix these fruits depending on what you have available.
- Category: Salads & Bowls
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Keywords: Israeli couscous salad