Couscous is a staple of North African cuisine: most people living in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania grew up eating it in one form or another, and it’s spread to the Middle East and parts of Italy as well. It’s actually France’s third-favorite dish now!
Couscous probably originated with the Berbers around 200 B.C.E. and is comprised of small balls of semolina (which is the same kind of grain that’s used to make pasta). Unlike other pastas that are mixed with water and eggs into sheets, you make couscous by rubbing semolina between wet hands until tiny pieces are formed, and the couscous is then dried. Although it’s most often served with a stew of some sort on top of it, today’s recipe makes it into a delicious and heart-healthy vegetarian salad that’s endorsed by the American Heart Association.
This salad can be served warm or cold, and is equally delicious either way, making it perfect for leftovers. To make it truly heart-healthy, make sure that you buy whole-wheat couscous.
It cooks itself
Couscous pretty much cooks itself. All you have to do is heat up some water—you’ll need 1 ¼ c. of it—and while it’s still on the boil, pour it into a heatproof bowl (Pyrex brand, for example) along with just 1 c. of couscous. Stir it together, and then just cover it. The couscous does the rest! Remember that when it’s cooked properly, couscous is light and fluffy, not gummy or gritty. Letting it do the work itself is a good way to obtain that fluffy consistency.
The rest of the ingredients
Take a large bowl and assemble two peeled chopped cucumbers, 1 c. peeled halved purple grapes, and three chopped scallions. Now take a can of chickpeas (they may also be called garbanzo beans where you live) and drain and rinse them well (this gets rid of excess salt so that our recipe can remain heart-healthy); add the chickpeas to the mix. Also you’re going to add ½ c. putted chopped black olives, ¼ c. chopped fresh Italian parsley (use 2 T. dried parsley if you cannot get it fresh), 1 ½ T. extra virgin olive oil, and 1 T. lemon juice.
Just mix it
Gently mix all of the ingredients together, then fluff the couscous and mix it in—gently, also. When you serve it, either top it with some crumbled feta cheese or serve feta cheese on the side so everyone can add as much as they’d like.
This recipe can also be made with Israeli couscous. Like North African couscous, Israeli couscous is a type of pasta as well, but its granules re much larger than those in “regular” couscous; they’re about the size of small pearls. Israeli couscous is then toasted rather than dried, which gives it a nuttier flavor and a different consistency. That same nuttiness is featured in a variation on this recipe that would include pesto and pine nuts; experiment and see if that’s preferable for you.
While it may add some salt to the dish (and make it unsuitable for vegetarians), one variation would replace the water with some sort of stock, usually chicken stock, sometimes chicken stock flavored with garlic.
And of course you can add other vegetables—tomatoes, corn, onions, and cucumber are particularly popular. Whatever you decide to add, it’s an easy dish to prepare and one that’s sure to please!