pearls in the pantry


    I don’t even think I knew what couscous was until about ten years ago.

    One of my first encounters was hearing a three-year old’s answer to his mother’s question of what he wanted for dinner: “Couscous.” Next thing I knew, she had pulled out this container of microscopic grains, poured boiling water over them, let them soak up the water, fluffed them a bit, and handed them to her kid.

    What I have since learned about couscous is it originates from Morocco and is made from semolina flour (or a mixture of semolina and durum), which is what is used to make pasta. Making couscous from scratch is hard and arduous work; I don’t know anyone who does it. One article I read said even in North Africa only the poorest people still make it by hand. Thanks to the French occupation of North Africa, the dish traveled across Europe and into Palestine and Israel.

    About two years ago, I was in Whole Foods and found “Israeli couscous,” which is a much larger size, though also a pasta. It is also called pearl couscous. I like that name: I’m keeping pearls in my pantry. The pearls are much more versatile and easier to handle. It has become an important part of my diet on the what-do-I-want-to-eat-that-won’t-take-long- and-is-good-for-me days.

    Like today. My lunch looked something like this:

    3/4 c water, brought to a boil
    1/4 c craisins (dried cranberries) added to cold water before boiling
    1/2 c Israeli couscous, added to boiling water

    Cover, lower to a simmer, and let cook for about five minutes, or until most of water is gone; turn off heat and let sit for another five minutes. While it’s resting, dig through your fridge and figure out what you want to add. Today that was:

    a handful of fresh spinach leaves, torn
    some diced pieces of leftover pork tenderloin
    some mandarin orange segments
    some Gorgonzola cheese crumbles

    I put the couscous in a mixing bowl, stirred in the spinach leaves to let them wilt a bit, and then added the rest of the stuff when the couscous had cooled a little.

    It tastes even better when you share a few of the pork chunks with your favorite schnauzers.

    Who knows what any Israelis might think of what I did with my bowl of little pearls, but it tasted like manna to me.



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