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My dinner plate, as a kid, always had a meat, vegetable, fruit, meat and something white. It was the Midwest, middle class, wholesome – not quite whole – food. My mom called the white side dishes, the “starch” like it was one of the major food groups. Starches – potatoes, rice, bread, pastas – have an important role as meal extenders and definitely, back in the day, keeping people warm. True comfort food.

What do you say we get out of ourcomfort zone today and take our tastebuds from the Midwest to the Middle East. Although seemingly exotic, most grocers sell Israeli couscous or pearl couscous. It’s different from instant couscous, not only because it doesn’t get caught in your teeth and cookware, but because it’s not presoaked with all flavor strained out.

Now for a momentary history lesson because I learned a few things in my research and feel the need to share. In 1949, the newly established State of Israel was lacking in food and currency because the population rapidly grew. The new regime mandated rationing and thus the State entered its Austerity Period. Israel’s first Prime Minister suggested to a prominent food producer to quickly develop a wheat-based as a substitute for rice. The challenge was met and ptitim,made of toasted hard wheat flour, was created. Later, it was made into little balls to resemble rice and Israeli Couscous was born.

Although some kids might snack on uncooked couscous, it needs ample seasoning to shine. What sets this starch apart, is the toasty layer that comes from browning couscous before adding stock. The seasonings provide that flavor vacation we seek, especially if adding the cinnamon stick. This can be your starter recipe. Mix in additional vegetables for a heartier side dish or cooked proteins for a one-pot meal.

toasted israeli couscous

preptime: 30 min serves 6

  • 5 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 2/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 large cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 3 3/4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh Italian parsley


  1. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. Add pine nuts and stir until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.
  3. Melt remaining 4 Tbsp butter in same pan over medium heat.
  4. Add shallots and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add couscous, cinnamon stick, and 2 bay leaves and stir until couscous browns slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add broth and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in parsley and pine nuts.
  8. Season with black pepper.
  9. Transfer to serving dish.

recipe adapted from epicurious and provided by your friends at cruncthimefood.com


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