I was shopping at the Farmers Market and needed some spices. There were several people waiting outside the locked door of the spice shop for the owners to arrive. I asked them why they would wait upwards of 30 minutes for the doors to open and they said the barbecue spice is worth the wait.
So I waited too, only another 5 minutes or so, and the doors opened up to a tiny shop filled with spices. Every curry and spice you can imagine, ghee, tahini, olive oils, dried fruits and vegetables, lentils, rices, peas, beans, nuts, vanilla beans, saffron, exotic sweeteners, you name a spice, this tiny shop has it.
A bag of Israeli couscous caught my eye, so I picked it up along with the illustrious barbecue spice, curry, Madagasgar vanilla beans (3 for $11, crazy good deal), pine nuts, and cumin seeds.
Couscous is made with semolina flour and cooks like pasta but instead of a rolling boil you want a simmering boil. Some recipes do not call for enough water and the couscous becomes too starchy, so cook it in lots of bubbling salted water. Add the peas for the last minute of cooking. Strain with a fine mesh sieve so the small pieces don’t run through large colander holes.
Store bought pesto is my favorite option but you can also make your own. Make your own pesto and leave out the cheese and this dish is vegan. Pine nuts are one of the fastest nuts to burn so set a timer for 4 minutes and keep close to the stove. As soon as they are brown, pull them off. Pine nuts taste much better when toasted but terrible if burned.
This fun and fantastic side dish pairs well with chicken, fish, flank steak, lamb chops or as part of a mediterranean platter with grilled vegetables, hummus, olives, and pita bread.
Israeli Couscous Caprese Salad
1 cup Israeli couscous
4 cups water
2 heirloom (or other ripe) tomatoes chopped small
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup sliced or diced fresh mozzarella
1/3 cup prepared basil pesto
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
basil leaves for garnish
Place water in medium sized saucepan over high heat. Add a hefty pinch of salt and once water comes to a boil add couscous. Turn heat down so water simmers instead of a rolling boil, about medium (will depend on your stove). You will want to see the couscous circling in the pan but not huge bubbles in the water. Set the timer for 8 minutes. The last minute of cooking add the 1/2 cup of frozen peas.
Meanwhile, chop tomatoes and place in a large glass bowl. Chop or slice mozzarella and place in a small bowl. Set aside. Toast pine nuts until golden over medium low heat for 4-6 minutes. Set aside.
Taste the couscous and make sure it is done, it will be soft and further past al dente, you do not want it to have any crunch, only a soft chew. Drain in a colander with small holes. Place in the bowl with tomatoes and stir. Add a drizzle of olive oil. At this point you can let the pasta cool or add the pesto and serve it warm. If serving it warm, do not mix the mozzarella in. Serve it with slices of mozzarella on the side. If serving it room temperature or cold, wait for the couscous to cool then stir in the pesto and cubed mozzarella. Taste for seasoning adding salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice to taste.
For serving, place couscous on a platter, top with pine nuts, basil, a drizzle of olive oil, a few olives, and fresh cracked pepper. Will last in the refrigerator for a day or two.