So, semi-homemade strikes again, this time with couscous. What is couscous? Anyone who has ever been to a Middle Eastern restaurant is probably vaguely familiar with it, but you may not know that it is actually pasta (not rice, or grain, as one might suspect). Cooking raw couscous (is raw the right word here?) is actually a fairly involved process, involving a long cooking time and (ideally) multiple steamings. I am intrigued by it — especially since I saw it in both regular and whole-wheat varieties in the bulk food aisle of my local organic food store — but at the end of the day, let’s be honest, I’m going to be opening up a a box of Near East couscous (which, as it turns out, is parboiled and then dried, so most of the work is already done for you…not to mention the enclosed packet of seasoning).
I actually had never made couscous before, even instant couscous. But let me tell you, I will be making it again. A lot. It was so easy (you just boil water and then stir the couscous in! you don’t even have to cook the couscous! just stir it into boiling water!) and so delicious, especially with a semi-homemade touch.
So what was the semi-homemade touch? Well, you can’t just eat couscous plain, even with the Near East toasted pine nut seasoning (which is delicious, also). So I sautéed a bunch of vegetables, basically. Sautéing is its own little ballgame, and one we talk about a lot here on Food Junta. It’s not hard, especially if you have a potentially carcinogenic nonstick pan like I do. Here’s what you do: heat some oil or butter in a pan over medium to medium-high heat. You can test the heat by putting your hand over the pan (a few inches, safety first, people). Then you start adding whatever you’re going to sauté. If it’s meat, you might just plunk that straight in. If it’s anything else, either garlic or onion will probably be involved, probably both. The rule with sautés is to add the crispiest thing first, and then add everything else slowly, from crispiest to softest. Makes sense, right? Crispiest, like onions, will take the longest cooking time. Garlic doesn’t take too long to cook when it’s minced up, but it does flavor the oil, so putting it in first will give everything else greater flavor. Add the onions more or less right after — here I have them sliced, because they’re actually a component of this dish, like any other vegetable; often you will have them chopped. Let that all cook until the onions are starting to get a little soft. Then I added a zucchini and a yellow squash, each of which I had quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly. Cooked that whole thing for a while, with a pot cover over it to kind of steam it so it would soften without getting too brown, until everything was more or less where I wanted it. And then I added some chopped tomato to kind of bind the whole thing. And then, very important, added salt and freshly ground pepper.
Meanwhile, my couscous was — well, it was sitting in the pot. Because all you do for instant couscous is boil some water with the flavor packet’s contents, stir in the couscous, take it off the heat, and let it sit for five minutes. Before you serve it, you should “fluff” it with a fork, which means kind of digging around in it with a fork for about 30 seconds to just loosen everything up. Serve couscous with a big pile of the veggies over it. And, for a semi-homemade sauce, mix a couple dashes of cayenne and a tiny amount of paprika into a container of plain yogurt. Perfecto!