September 17, 2013

Hipster Kitchen: Couscous is the New (Hipster) Pasta

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When it comes to simple, cheap weeknight dinners for busy college kids, the noodle is unquestionably king. From Ramen to EasyMac or angel hair to ziti, pasta can’t be beat for a fast, filling, instantly gratifying meal. I’m a fan of it myself, and have been known to eat pasta-centric dishes two or three times a week when I’m busy, but after three years of apartment living, opening a box of 89-cent Wegmans rigatoni doesn’t induce the same thrill of self-sufficiency it used to. Isn’t there something better? Something fresher? Something more … hip?

Enter couscous. It’s pretty much exactly the same thing as pasta — a simple dough of semolina flour, dried out to preserve it, which can then be reconstituted by boiling or steaming. And yet somehow, telling people you ate couscous for dinner implies a kind of foodie superiority that pasta, however dressed up, will never achieve.

The difference is primarily an aesthetic one, and as such, it is important to choose your couscous carefully. Traditional couscous — the small, granular kind — pairs well with heavier stews or ragú, but can also be eaten with milk and sugar for a sort of alternative hot-cereal breakfast. Pearl couscous is a bit more versatile, in my opinion. Also called Israeli couscous, pearl couscous grains are larger in size, smooth and beadlike, more similar to orzo or quinoa. Texturally bold, with a delightful chewiness when cooked correctly, pearl couscous shines best when juxtaposed with simple sautéed vegetables and understated sauces.

The recipe below is one of my favorite combinations — the goat cheese melts a bit on the warm couscous, coating the individual pearls in a salty, creamy almost-sauce that plays wonderfully off the earthy kale. Black olives add a savory zing. Plus, the whole thing comes together in fifteen minutes, and makes killer leftovers.


1 cup pearl couscous

1 ¼ cup water

3 – 4 kale leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons creamy goat cheese

½ can black olives, sliced in half

salt, pepper, olive oil (to taste)

Place the water in a medium saucepan and heat until boiling. When it is boiling, add the couscous and cover, reducing heat to low; let simmer for 10 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. While the couscous is cooking, heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium high and sauté the kale for five minutes or so. When it is bright green and slightly wilted, add the chopped olives.

When couscous is done, toss with olive oil to coat, then add to skillet along with goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Toss until goat cheese has melted and everything is evenly distributed. Serve immediately, or chill in the fridge before eating cold.