Israeli couscous with preserved lemons, pistachios, and dried fruit

Though I grew up eating a lot of (delicious! Thanks, Mom!) meals that were protein + starch + vegetable, I don’t cook that way very often now. For one, I cook for leftovers, and I often find the texture of reheated meat unappealing. Two, I just so enjoy a heaping grain salad, a warm bowl of soup, or a big mess of curry or stew that a three-part meal never occurs to me. And three: cooking three things for one weeknight meal? Using three separate pots? That I then have to wash? Ugh.

As a result, I feel a bit out of my depth when I have to plan a meal that includes a separate meat, starch, and vegetable. The vegetable bit is okay. The meat, fine–I can do chicken under a brick or roast some lamb. But I find myself hitting a wall on the starch bit. Everything–roast potatoes, rice, and so on–just feels a bit, well, starchy and unexciting, like it’s just there in the name of “balance.”

Enter this couscous recipe. It is genuinely exciting–something I have never said about a starchy side. It has good texture: Israeli couscous are like these little springy starch balls, and then you get the crunch from the pistachios. The dried fruit is just sweet enough. And the preserved lemon keeps things interesting. They have a salty-lemon bite, an intensity, and a unique lemony fragrance that pervades the whole dish in a way that fresh lemons simply do not.

So, don’t substitute regular lemons in this recipe. You can find preserved lemons at Middle Eastern markets for cheap (mine were $3) or at some Whole Foods for much more ($8 at our local WF). Wondering what else you could use preserved lemons in? Chicken tagine is a good bet, as is adding them to any dressing or yogurt sauce. Food and Wine also has some great ideas here.

This couscous made a beautiful bed for the roasted lamb I served at Christmas dinner last night. I can attest that it can be made ahead and reheats well. I imagine it would work well with any kind of grilled, braised, or roasted meat, fish, or poultry.

Israeli couscous with preserved lemons, pistachios, and dried fruit (serves 8-10 as a side)
From David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen

2 preserved lemons (also sold as pickled lemons)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (has a more herbaceous flavor than curly-leaf)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup diced dried fruit, such as a combination of dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, apricots and prunes
1 cup roasted unsalted pistachios, lightly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups plain dried Israeli (pearled) couscous
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the stem end from the lemon (if it has a stem). Cut the lemon into quarters. Press/rub the pulp-side of the cut lemon against a fine-mesh strainer held over a mixing bowl to extract the juices. Discard the pulp and seeds, but keep the rind. Mince the rind and add it to the bowl along with the parsley, butter, dried fruit, pistachios, salt and cinnamon.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook according to the package directions (I just boiled water and tasted the couscous until it was al dente). Drain it, then immediately add it to the bowl, stirring until the butter has melted and the ingredients are well blended. Taste, and season with pepper as needed.

Serve right away or refrigerate and reheat to serve the next day.


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