If you haven’t tried couscous lately, you might want to give it another thought. When it comes to whole grains and such, couscous could well be regarded as a cook’s best friend. Although, it’s actually closer to a pasta, since it is made from semolina, the ground hard high protein portion of the durum wheat grain.
Once combined with boiling water the tiny shape expands voluminously and is ready to eat in 10 minutes—without touching the stove. In North Africa multi-level couscousières are a kitchen staple. These clever, efficient pots simmer flavorful stews in the bottom portion while their beloved couscous is positioned above in a separate steamer compartment absorbing all the flavorful moisture from below.
Over the centuries couscous’ popularity has spread along the Mediterranean with regional dishes found in France, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. There are different sizes, too, with Israeli, or pearl couscous, being larger and chewier when prepared.
Unlike finicky pasta that requires last minute cooking, tiny couscous is very forgiving. It will wait for you. If you would rather focus your attention and energy on grilling, roasting, or sautéing your entrée grab some mild and easy couscous. Slip in a few vegetables, flavor with complementary herbs or spices, and you are good to go without missing a beat.
Couscous with Zucchini and Red Pepper
2/3 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium zucchini, trim cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, flatten with a knife
1 small red pepper, seed and cut into strips
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
- In a medium bowl combine couscous, 1 cup boiling water, salt and stir with a fork. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile heat olive oil in medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add zucchini, 1 clove garlic, red pepper and thyme and sauté for about 5 minutes to brown and soften slightly. Remove garlic.
- Fluff couscous with a fork and gently combine in pan with vegetables. Heat briefly, add green onion and serve. Serves 4.
We are closing in on the end of zucchini season, but you may still be looking for more ways to prepare them. Here’s a simple idea that will buy you more time when squash just keeps on coming.
If you happen to be grilling anyway, throw the vegetables on before or after the main event. The zucchini will benefit from a brief rest in a light marinade of olive oil and herbs: it will give the vegetables a nice boost of flavor and help them not stick to the grill.
Zucchini is very forgiving when grilled in whole chunks, as long as the coals are hot enough to mark them. When cooked 6 to 10 minutes over medium-hot heat they will be al dente with plenty of flavor.
Enjoy as is, or set aside and use later: as a pizza topping, added last minute to a stir fry, in Greek orzo with feta cheese and oregano, or featured in specialty dishes like lasagna.
Grilled Zucchini and Other Vegetables
2 1-1/2″ thick zucchini, rinse, dry and trim
1 yellow squash, rinse, dry and trim
1 onion, peel and halve
2 poblano peppers
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh basil and savory combination, chopped; or 1/2 each teaspoon dried oregano and thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp pepper
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Cut the zucchini and yellow squash into 2″ lengths and toss with the marinade. Cover and let stand 30 minutes or longer.
- Meanwhile prepare grill. When coals are medium-hot, stand the lengths upright on the grill surface and cook 2-3 minutes or until well seared. Rotate and mark the other end of each length. Place them on their sides and sear around the exteriors. Cook a total of 6-10 minutes, until tender firm. Cool and cut into long 1/4″ thick vertical slices.
- Brush a bit of the marinade left in bowl over the cut side of onion halves. Roast the peppers and onion in the same fashion as above: char to mark and lightly roast. The peppers should be heavily charred for skin removal; place in plastic bag to cool. Peel off the seared skin, remove stems, seeds, and any heavy interior membrane. Slice the peppers and onion into 1/2″ wide strips and set aside.
There’s nothing like authentic risotto for sheer artistry. But at home I don’t seem to have the patience or inclination to constantly stir assorted liquids with rice in order to achieve the layers of flavor and creaminess it requires. Here’s an easy solution using orzo instead that takes all the work out of the process.
While the orzo and other goodies simmer away, diced zucchini can be stirred into the pot and cooked along with it. I discovered it was the ideal opportunity to whip out my new inexpensive spiralizer, which cranks out perfect spaghetti-like strands in the flick of a wrist. The zucchini sits atop the simmering orzo, and steams to an al dente state in no time at all.
To finish: spoon into bowls and add a dollop of ricotta-basil cheese for extra creaminess.
Orzo and Zucchini Risotto-style
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1-1/2 cups orzo
14 ounces chicken stock
2-1/2 cups water
2 medium tomatoes, seed and dice
1 medium zucchini, diced or cut into 6” julienne strips or spirals
¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
Optional ricotta topping
½ cup ricotta
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, julienne
- In 2-quart pot with lid, sauté the onion in olive oil to soften, adding the saffron in the process.
- Stir in the orzo and sauté for 1 minute.
- Stir in the broth, water, tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and cook for 8 minutes.
- To finish with zucchini, scatter the strands on top of the orzo, sprinkle with salt and pepper and parmesan cheese, cover and cook about 3 minutes longer, until the orzo is just tender and zucchini is al dente. If liquid remains, increase heat, stirring until liquid evaporates and it is creamy.
- Spoon into bowls, top with a spoonful of ricotta cheese topping and serve. Serves 3-4