Israeli Couscous with Lemon, Cucumber, and Cilantro
I didn’t know what to make for supper, and I had only a half hour before it had to be ready. Life on the run, you know. I work, E works, L is at the theater all day, M is either swimming, hockeying, iPhoning, entertaining, being entertained—it’s all just overwhelming, and making dinner becomes a chore.
But you know that.
You deal with the same issues, or similar ones, just the names and the names of the activities are different.
And we just can’t bring ourselves to open a box or a can or face another plate of ho-hum chicken breasts. Sure we like to cook ahead, and we have on several occasions, most recently a couple of Sundays ago, when we whipped up bowls full of chicken Marsala, baked ziti, salmon cakes, a couple of meat loafs, and E’s most popular white-bean and turkey-sausage stew.
It’s 4:45, all the make-ahead packages are frozen solid, there’s one chicken breast in the fridge (left over from another recipe), and the pressure is on.
What’s in the cupboard?
What I found was a box of Trader Joe’s Israeli couscous, a carton of plain yogurt and lots of produce in the fridge, and the clock is ticking. I’m feeling a little bit like Ted Allen is hiding around the corner.
I’m likely to fail. Chopped.
I looked for and found a recipe for a cold couscous salad that looked promising, but it surely needed a jolt of pizzazz, and then I found a small container of grilled chicken souvlaki I made a while back—that will defrost in a hurry. I can pull this off?
The feature for me will be the couscous salad, because I can spice it up and make it sing. So here’s what I made:
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber, Lemon and Cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white Balsamic or cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1. Preheat a saucepan over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil; when the oil is hot add the couscous and toast, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Carefully add the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover and steam for 12 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Cut the seeded cucumber into quarters and then into ½-inch slices; place in a large bowl. Add the cilantro and parsley. With a fine-hole grater, zest the lemon peel into the cucumber. Set aside.
3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl, add the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine the dressing and add it to the cucumber. Toss to coat well.
4. Add the cooled couscous, the feta, and the tomatoes, and toss gently to combine the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately or chill until ready to eat.
You can substitute mint, all parsley, or all cilantro to the salad as you wish.
Serve with chicken or lamb souvlaki. Here’s the recipe for that: Feel free to substitute lamb for the chicken, and try the tzatziki, too. It’s the bomb!
Souvlaki (Lamb or Chicken)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 lemons, juiced
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, trimmed of most (but not all) the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (similarly prepared)
Place all the ingredients in a zipper-close food-storage bag, mix well, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight. Place the meat on soaked wood or steel skewers, and grill over direct heat, turning several times, until done, 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice or couscous, and with this fabulous yogurt dipping sauce:
32 ounces plain yogurt or 16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 large peeled, seeded and shredded English cucumber (or two regular ones)
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (you decide how many)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Place the plain yogurt in cheese cloth over a large bowl and strain in the refrigerator overnight (not necessary if you use Greek yogurt, but use half the amount of yogurt). Mix the cucumber and garlic with the salt and drain over a bowl for a half hour (this will remove moisture from the cucumber). Blend all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Serve with the grilled souvlaki and a Greek salad.