Pearl couscous, toasted pecans, generous handfuls of fresh mint (straight from my garden!) and a chopped onion, what's not to like? Here's a recipe that's marvelous warm, cold or any temperature in between. It's party or picnic food perfection in its most casual form.
I love pearl couscous, also known as "Israeli couscous" for its caviar-like texture and delicate appearance. It's also ridiculously easy to make (just boil water and add to couscous) and the mini pasta soaks up any vinaigrette or fresh herb you might have on hand.
This variation came together moments before an impromptu picnic in the backyard. Paired with a glass of lemonade or sparkling wine, it's casual and easy for entertaining. My neighbors, husband and I all loved it!
As a vegetarian, I usually contemplate some sort of grain as the center of my meal. Once I have the grain (or mini pasta in this case) to layer vegetables, nuts and fresh herbs upon, I know I'm on my way to a healthful, delicious main course. This version of couscous does a great job as the star of a picnic meal, and pairs wonderfully with hummus, a nice baguette, olives and a bit of cheese. As warmer weather graces our backyards, we can turn more and more to my favorite way to eat — dining alfresco with a myriad of little salads and good bread. So gather some friends and dig in!
serves 2 as main, 4 as a side
1 medium-sized red onion, cut into slivers
1/2 cup pearl couscous
1/2 cup (plus 2 tablespoons) water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (reserve a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan on medium heat, sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for approximately 20 minutes. The onion should be soft and slightly caramelized, but not completely reduced (as you would do for a French onion soup, for example). Sprinkle the onions with a dash of salt.
In the meantime, chop the pecans and toast in a smaller skillet on a low flame for about 5 minutes. Nuts should be aromatic, just lightly toasted. Stir frequently to prevent burning (they can go from toasty to burnt in just a second, so keep an eye on them the entire time). Chop the mint, reserving a few leaves for garnish.
Place couscous in a medium-large bowl. Boil water, measure it to 1/2 cup mark and add one more little splash. Pour water into bowl with couscous. Cover with foil for about 12 minutes. Remove foil, then add cooked onion, toasted pecans, fresh mint and a tablespoon of olive oil and vinegar. Stir until evenly mixed, and sprinkle with a little fresh mint on top.
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)