I’ve rediscovered couscous. The news is good: It’s not the tasteless hippie choke grain that I remember.
I don’t know what the heck we were doing in the old days, but I have vague recollections of raw garlic and stickery parsley. And handfuls of mint. But wait, that was tabbouleh.
I would still get tabbouleh and couscous mixed up if I hadn’t edified myself. I’ll save you the trouble:
Couscous is semolina, a durum wheat product not to be confused with corn semolina, which is a corn product.
Couscous is made from coarse semolina. Pasta is made from more finely ground semolina.
Tabbouleh is made from bulgur wheat, which people think is cracked wheat or cracked wheat berries. But it’s not. It’s wheat kernels that have been steamed, then crushed.
Now you know, and you can intelligently select which wheat product you want to toss with olive oil, lemon juice, raisins, flat-leaf parsley, feta cheese, diced bell peppers and onion, or combinations of your choice.
I, myself, have been leaning toward couscous.
You boil water, pour in some couscous, cover, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in some chopped items. Dinner in 10 minutes, with leftovers.
If you don’t want to buy plain couscous and add your own seasonings, you can buy packaged brands that have seasoning packets.
You can even buy frozen couscous salad at Trader Joe’s. I tried a bag, thinking it was a hot dish, and was flummoxed by the lack of directions: “Let thaw 6 hours in refrigerator.”
“Then what?” I wondered.
Then pour it in a bowl and eat it.
I slaved over two-difficult-to-open bags for the Fourth of July, and it was a big hit.
But if you want to actually do the work yourself, try this chicken couscous salad. It’s, well, inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, as evidenced by the raisins, I guess.
The dressing is sort of what you might call Mediterranean ranch.
You can leave out anything you don’t like, even the arugula, but that’s what gives it some zip.
It certainly isn’t authentic anything. Just good. And easy.
Rediscover couscous for yourself.
Features editor Melanie Munk: 425-339-3430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1cup packed fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
1/2medium sweet onion, cut in chunks
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
110-ounce package plain couscous
1/3cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3cup golden raisins
1/3cup pine nuts or pepitas
3cups coarsely chopped arugula
2cups seeded and diced plum tomatoes (5 or 6 tomatoes)
2cups frozen corn kernels, or corn kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
1tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
4grilled chicken breasts, sliced
To make dressing: Blend basil leaves, mayonnaise and onion in blender or food processor until smooth. Gradually blend in buttermilk and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Can be made a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
Chicken should be at room temperature.
Prepare couscous according to package directions and allowed to cool.
When couscous is cool, gently stir in cheese, raisins, pine nuts, arugula, tomatoes, corn and lemon zest.
Spoon salad onto 6 salad plates as a bed for the chicken. Evenly distribute slices of chicken over each plate. Garnish each plate with a sprig of whole basil leaves.
Or spoon the couscous salad onto a platter and arrange the chicken slices on top. Garnish the platter with basil leaves.
Pass the dressing at the table.
Note: Chicken can be diced and tossed in the salad with the rest of the ingredients, and the salad can be dressed before being taken to the table.
Chicken couscous dinner salad (6 servings)