November 11, 2012

Couscous with Lemon & Mint

This works as either a cold salad or as a hot side dish (add some chickpeas either way, to make it a main-course in itself). It is both very easy to make, and very quick. As you can imagine, the lemon and mint flavours conjure the mediterranean climate, so let that be your guide for choosing something to serve with it - a nice Greek salad, perhaps, or some falafel patties, or perhaps a braised lamb shank or a merguez tagine. Its low effort requirement make it perfect for either summer nights when you don't feel much like cooking (or turning on the stove), or as a last-minute way to round out a bit of leftover stew that seemed smaller than you remembered when you pulled it out of the freezer.

I recommend using any bell pepper except green, here. The red, orange, and yellow peppers are much sweeter, and complement the flavours of the mint and lemon. The green bell pepper would impart a more bitter, vegetal flavour - not necessarily a disaster, of course, but less harmonious for the dish overall.

Couscous with Lemon & Mint
Serves 4

1 cup coarse dry couscous (not Israeli style)
1 yellow bell pepper (or other sweet pepper), finely diced
1 green onion, finely sliced (white and green)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 - 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh mint chiffonade
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 cups boiling water

You need to make this dish in a container with a tight fitting lid - you can either use a metal saucepan (heat the water, remove from heat, add the salt, sprinkle the couscous evenly over the surface, cover, wait), or a ceramic or tempered glass bowl with a lid (heat the water separately, pour into bowl, etc.) but if your lid is not tight-fitting, you may want to drape a heavy kitchen towel over the top. Make sure you allow room for the couscous to expand - allow at least four times as much room as couscous.

Whichever method you choose, prepare the couscous and let it stand, covered well, for about ten minutes, while you prepare your lemon, mint, green onion, and bell pepper.

Combine the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, and cumin, and whisk together as if you were making a vinaigrette. Place the chopped bell pepper into a serving bowl with the sliced green onion, and pour half of the vinaigrette over top. Prepare the mint chiffonade and set aside. When the couscous is ready, remove the lid and fluff carefully with a fork - be patient, and scrape the tines of the fork over the surface, going increasingly deeper, until you have loosened all of it. Add the fluffed up couscous to the serving bowl, and pour in the rest of the vinaigrette. Stir with a fork to combine thoroughly, letting the couscous soak up the liquid from the lemony dressing. Stir in the mint, and serve (hot), or chill for an hour or so to serve as a cold salad.

This dish is tasty whether you are eating it hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If you are going to add chickpeas, add one cup of cooked (drained) chickpeas to the bell peppers and vinaigrette, tossing well to coat. If you are intending to serve the dish hot, you may want to heat the chickpeas up first.

I love having leftovers of this for my lunch - it packs really well, because the couscous absorbs all of the liquid, making for easy, mess-free transportation.