Who doesn't love couscous? For me, Israeli (or pearl) couscous is so satisfying; it's the perfect comfort food. Since Israeli couscous is slightly larger than ordinary couscous, rather than soaking it in boiling water to rehydrate, you simply boil it as you would pasta. I made a big piece of salmon a couple of weeks ago for dinner and was excited to serve it alongside this beautiful dish. When I first delved into making the couscous, I thought I must have bought far too many fennel bulbs; five seems like a lot. But once the fennel cooked down, I understood why I needed so much. The fennel reduces as it caramelizes, becoming sweet and delicate.
This dish is so full of flavor. With the addition of fresh herbs and freshly grated lemon zest, this couscous is light, bright, and zesty. Toasted pine nuts give a nice added crunch. This is a great side dish to serve to a crowd. Not only does it make a ton of couscous, but I was pleasantly surprised that it kept its shape and texture without clumping when reheated, great news for the time sensitive cook. It can be made a day in advance and simply reheated just before serving (and leftovers are even good cold).
I love dishes that really pack a punch, are flavorful, and loaded with fresh herbs and veggies. This is one such dish. It can be elegant or a comforting and sustaining weeknight meal.
ISRAELI COUSCOUS WITH FENNEL & SPINACH
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook
3 cups Israeli couscous
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
5 fennel bulbs, stocks discarded, bulbs halved, cored, and thinly sliced (see notes below)
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. grated lemon zest
3 to 4 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
7 oz. baby spinach (about 7 cups)
1/3 cup minced fresh chives
3 tbsp. lightly chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (see notes below)
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Stir in couscous and 1 tbsp. salt, and cook until the couscous is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the couscous and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil, stir, and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Wipe pot dry.
In the same pot you just used to cook the couscous, heat 3 tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the fennel, onion, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and released most of their liquid, about 15 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring often to prevent sticking. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and lemon zest and cook for about a minute. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the spinach. Cover and let sit until spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Stir in couscous, lemon juice, chives, dill, and the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- The fennel fronds can be minced and used as a garnish, if desired.
- Lightly toast the pine nuts in a small saute pan over medium low heat, stirring occasionally (watch them closely as they can burn quickly).
- Couscous can be covered and kept at room temperature for about 2 hours and reheated just before serving. It can also be made a day in advance if needed.