Israeli Couscous Salad
Israeli couscous is an absolute pleasure to eat.
There’s something inherently comforting about eating a hot bowl of soup on a cold day, and that’s precisely how I feel when I eat this warm Israeli couscous salad. Also known as pearl couscous, this pasta-like couscous is plump and silky, with more surface area to carry flavor than regular couscous. And lest you be misled by my use of the word ‘salad’, there are no leaves involved. Only gluten-full globes of deliciousness with a mouthfeel I can only describe as delightful.
In this dish, simplicity is everything. Cherry tomatoes with sea salt and plenty of good olive oil are roasted until bursting, creating a perfectly subtle sauce right in the bottom of the baking dish. Cooked couscous is folded in and finished with shallots caramelized in chili flakes for a savory, spicy finish. Not sold yet? You can have this dish cooked and ready to serve in as little as 30 minutes.
This is one of those dishes that you are going to want to eat right off the spoon. Be sure to eat it while it’s still warm so you don’t miss out on the joy of cherry tomatoes bursting unexpectedly in your mouth. This dish is all about contrast: shallots caramelized in a saucepan with lots of dried red chili peppers develop a sweetness while also taking on the heat of the chili flakes. Adding shaved manchego on top is optional, but seems like an obvious finishing touch.
Israeli Couscous Salad
1 1/2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous (like Brad’s Organic or Trader Joes)
1 box cherry tomatoes
1 large shallot, or 2 small
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dried red pepper flakes
OPTIONAL: Manchego, for shaving on top
Preheat oven to 375. Wash tomatoes and put them in a baking dish with sides. Pour lots of good olive oil on top (at least 4 tbsps) and sprinkle generously with sea salt. The olive oil combined with the juice from the tomatoes will comprise the sauce for your couscous, so don’t hesitate to be a bit heavy handed with the olive oil.
Once the oven is preheated, put the tomatoes in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. Now start your couscous in a medium sauce pan, and cook according to product specific instructions. For Bob’s Red Mill Pearl Couscous, add 2 cups water to the pan with a sprinkle of sea salt. Bring to a boil and then add 1 ½ cups couscous. Reduce to a simmer and mix before covering. Cook covered until water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, mix gently and set aside.
Once the tomatoes have been in the oven 15 minutes, take them out, give them a mix and then stick back in the oven for 10 more minutes, or until bubbling and tomatoes have burst. Let cool a few minutes and then pour the cooked couscous (drained of any excess water) into the baking dish with the cherry tomatoes and gently fold it all together so that the couscous is coated with the juice and olive oil from the tomatoes. Cover with foil to keep the heat in, and put to the side.
Cut up 1 large shallot into rounds (you can use 2 small ones if you can’t find a large one). The more caramelized shallots, the merrier, so go for it all. Heat another 3-4 tbsps of olive oil in a medium sautée pan over medium heat. Add the shallots into the pan when the olive oil starts to shimmer. Turn down the heat and let simmer until the shallots start to soften and become translucent, 2 or so minute. Add ½ tsp red chili flakes and a sprinkle of sea salt to the pan. Let cook over low heat for another 2-3 mins. Turn the heat off and let cool for a minute before folding into the couscous and tomatoes. Mix thoroughly and serve while warm, or let all cool to room temperature before covering and putting in your fridge for up to 3 days.
If you’re feeling frisky, serve topped with shaved manchego