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Israeli couscous with curry and cranberries

(Debra Samuels for the boston globe)
October 8, 2008

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Serves 8 as a side dish

Israeli couscous, made of little spheres of toasted pasta, looks like a necklace that has become unstrung. Also called Middle Eastern or pearl couscous, it's a cousin to the coarser Mediterranean fregola. Like all pastas, simmer the little beads in boiling water until they soften. You'll notice that this grain absorbs the water, so there's little to drain off. To intensify the flavor, sauté the couscous first in oil, then add curry powder before simmering in water. Dried cranberries add color and tang, toasted almonds a little crunch, and green beans a crisp element. Use the salad as a bed for grilled salmon or skewers of chicken, or increase the green beans, add another vegetable (broccoli or cauliflower florets), and serve the dish as a vegetarian supper.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 1/2 cups water, or more if necessary
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 pound green beans, cut into thirds
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until softened.

2. Stir in the couscous until it is coated with oil. Cook 1 minute.

3. Add salt, pepper, curry powder, and cranberries. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute to mellow the curry.

4. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the couscous is tender when tasted. If the beads are not tender, add a little more water and continue cooking for 2 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Transfer the grains to a serving bowl.

5. Wipe out the skillet. Add the butter and when it melts, cook the almonds, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until they start to brown. Tip the almonds into the couscous mixture.

6. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans. Cook 3 minutes or until they are tender but still bright green. Drain and rinse with cold water, shaking off the excess. Add them to the couscous.

7. Stir the salad gently. Taste for seasoning; add more salt and pepper, if you like. Debra Samuels