Praise for beige: couscous week

I was feeling ambivalent about putting couscous at center stage for this week’s theme. On its own, it just isn’t that remarkable:

But it really shines as a platform for tasty, healthy ingredients. This versatile not-grain (it’s a refined wheat product, basically pasta) can get mixed up with fruits, vegetables, meats, spices, or myriad other ingredients to create a seemingly endless catalog of recipes. You may not look twice at that plain bowl of beige, but you’ll probably stop to coo at the jaunty hats on these couscous stuffed tomatoes, right?

Or check out another eye-catching favorite of mine: cinnamon-lime chicken with raisin couscous. Here, simple couscous is the underpinning for colorful vegetables, fruit, and seasonings, making a subtly spicy, comforting bowl of food.

It may not be fair for me to sell couscous short like that when it turns out there are several types of couscous, lending a little more nutritional and flavor interest to this theme ingredient. The traditional version found in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines is a refined semolina product rolled into teeny little spheres. But you can also get whole-wheat couscous (my preferred version), several non-wheat couscous types (made from barley, millet or corn meal), as well as Israeli (pearl) couscous with heftier orbs and a chewier texture:

And couscous can’t be beat when it comes to convenience: toss it into some boiling water, take it off heat and in 5 minutes, done. Granted, several of this week’s recipes involve a lot more than 5 minutes of work, thanks to all the other ingredients that need your attention. But if you’re willing to put in the non-couscous time, I bet you’ll find these seven recipes worth it:

  • Breakfast couscous with dried fruit compote, from Epicurious (here)
  • Chicken tagine, from Nutrition Action (here)
  • Chicken with lime sauce and raisin couscous, from About.com (here) – See below for my adaptation
  • Chickpea, feta, sun-dried tomato couscous, from Salad Pride (here)
  • Couscous stuffed tomatoes (recipe follows below)
  • Gingery shrimp with couscous, from Real Simple (here)
  • Tricolor cauliflower and couscous, from Delicious Dishings (here)

Couscous stuffed tomatoes (text file here)

Couscous with cucumber, mint, and assorted vegetables is a pretty standard salad, but I like to add a little twist by stuffing it into hollowed-out tomatoes.

This recipe makes 12 stuffed tomatoes which you can serve singly as a side, or in multiples to make a main dish. I haven’t tried this, but I bet you could even use smaller tomatoes to make finger-food appetizers.

(12 servings, approx. 150 calories each.)

Ingredients:
¾ cup whole wheat couscous (dry)
Generous ¾ cup water (or skimpy 1 cup)
1 cup chopped mint
1 cucumber, diced
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup roasted red peppers, diced
1/3 cup capers
Juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 medium tomatoes, tops sliced off and innards scooped out

Bring the water to a boil over high heat and add the couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

In a large mixing bowl, add the mint, cucumber, chickpeas, roasted red pepper, and capers. Toss well.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, cumin and salt. Add ground black pepper to taste.

Add the couscous to the large bowl with the vegetables and mix well. Pour the lemon-oil-spice dressing over the couscous salad and mix well.

Scoop ½ cup of the couscous salad into each tomato. Top with ground black pepper, if you like, and serve.

Cinnamon-lime chicken with raisin couscous (adapted from About.com here)

I mostly follow the original when I make it, but I’m not patient enough for all the “add this, then this, then these, oh and also…” every five minutes. Also, I prefer to use chicken breasts, cut back on the couscous, leave out the artichokes, and cook the chicken and vegetables a little more quickly by using higher heat.

(4 servings, approximately 450 calories each)

Ingredients:
¾ cup whole wheat couscous (dry)
1 Tbs + 1 tsp olive oil, divided
2 chicken breasts, cut into small bite-size pieces
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 stalks of celery, diced
3 cups + 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth, divided
Juice from 2 limes, divided
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp salt
½ tsp + ¼ tsp cinnamon, divided
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground black pepper
1/3 cup raisins
¼ tsp nutmeg

Bring 1 cup of broth, nutmeg, raisins and ½ tsp cinnamon to a boil over high heat and add the couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

In a large nonstick pan, heat the olive oil to medium-high. Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes, until browned. Add the carrots, onion and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Pour 3 cups of broth and the juice from one lemon over the chicken-vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the celery and chickpeas and return to a simmer for 5 more minutes.

Remove from heat and strain out the remaining liquid. Either return the chicken-vegetable mix to the large pan or move it to a large mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the juice of one lime, coriander, salt, ginger, turmeric, pepper and ¼ tsp cinnamon. Mix and pour over the chicken-vegetable mixture. Add the raisin couscous and mix well.

Divide among four bowls and serve.

2 comments

  1. Megan says:

    Thanks for linking to my recipe!

  2. As always, happy to!

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