Our friends Wayne and Sondra introduced us to couscous many years ago on a snowy winter evening at the cabin. Instead of peeling potatoes to accompany the fish poaching in her electric “salmon skillet,” Sondra brought some chicken broth to boiling and stirred in a cup of what I thought was a kind of rice. In a few minutes I was eating couscous with Lake Superior salmon. I have been hooked ever since.
Couscous is a North African variety of pasta. Like spaghetti or noodles, couscous is made of semolina flour that is shaped into little pellets about the size of sesame seeds. Today you can buy couscous in most supermarkets. It is precooked and takes only a few minutes to prepare for serving. Properly made, it is a wonderful fluffy source of starch.
A few years ago my sister Barbara gave me a copy of the Wisconsin Herb Cookbook, by Suzanne Breckenridge & Marjorie Snyder. I try to make at least one recipe promptly from any gift cookbook, and the couscous salad recipe caught my eye.
It is a wonderful summer salad, makes a satisfying lunch by itself and uses up some of the zucchini that keeps showing up on your doorstep.
4 cups chicken broth
7 T vegetable or olive oil
1/4 tsp. each turmeric, ground allspice, ground cloves, ground ginger
2 cups couscous
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, in tiny dice
2 cups zucchini, unpeeled, core removed and chopped
1-1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
1/3 cup chopped red onion
3 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T each minced fresh chives and fresh mint
2 tsp. honey
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
Start by chopping the apricots into an eighth-inch dice.
Bring the broth, four tablespoons of oil and spices to a boil. Add the couscous and boil over moderate heat two minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
Add the apricots and raisins. Cover the pan and let it stand fifteen minutes. Put the pan into the refrigerator until the couscous is cold.
Wash and chop the zucchini into a quarter to one-third-inch dice. Peel the carrots and chop them into a quarter-inch dice. Remove the dry outer husk of the onion and chop it into a quarter-inch dice.
Toast the almonds and set them aside and wash and chop the chives and mint.
Break up the couscous until each grain is separate and add the rest of the ingredients including the remaining oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Chill the salad four hours and taste it before serving. You may need to add a little more salt at this time. If the salad is too dry, add more oil and lemon juice. Garnish with toasted almonds before serving.
NOTES: Couscous tastes a bit like cereal and is especially good with salmon and meats cooked on the grill. Try it with steak, shrimp or chicken. Made with broth, all it needs is some salt and pepper, though you can experiment with additions including minced garlic, mint, hot sauce or grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
You can use plain or Israeli couscous. Plain couscous is about the size of half a grain of rice. Israeli couscous is larger and must be cooked about ten minutes You should use about two and a half cups of Israeli couscous.
There are many more good recipes in the Wisconsin Herb Cookbook. If you collect cookbooks, it will be a fine addition to your library.