Old grapes (aka raisins) inspire couscous dish

I distinctly remember when I discovered couscous.

The year was 1990, and I was a harried reporter for the Middletown Journal who spent more time at fast food joints than in the kitchen (when I was in the kitchen, I used a lot of Ragu and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese). I ran across a very vegetably Moroccan recipe that called for couscous in some magazine (the recipe also included cinnamon — how novel! — and harissa, a spicy sauce I’d never heard of either). I thought it might be a good way to eat more vegetables, so I searched high and low at Krogers and found Israeli couscous. (Also known as pearl couscous, Israeli couscous is chewier than the tiny-grained couscous commonly found in the pasta aisle nowadays).

The dish was delicious (and a lot healthier than a Rally’s cheeseburger and fries).

Couscous is kind of like a cross between pasta and rice, and I love its versatility and texture. Couscous has become a lot more popular and available in the past quarter century, but not everyone is as big a fan as I am.

My Beloved won’t eat it, and I tried serving it once to my mother-in-law. She was polite (as you might expect), but when I asked her if she liked it, she said, “It’s not my favorite.”

I dined alone for lunch the other day so I had no one to please but myself. I wanted to use up a bunch of past-their-prime red grapes by roasting them and decided to create a spicy dish with couscous. It turned out to be a delicious mix of sweet and savory.

If you’re a fan of couscous, you might like it, too.

Begin by roasting your grapes. Roasting grapes brings out their sweetness. Think: Warm raisins. It’s a great way to salvage a bunch that’s been sitting in your fridge a few days longer than you’d like. I also used cherry tomatoes and garlic.

couscous tomatoes and grapes

While they’re roasting, I prepared my couscous. All I had on hand was plain whole wheat couscous, so I made my own “spice packet” with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, parsley and red pepper flakes to jazz it up. (In retrospect, a dash of cinnamon might have been nice, too.)

couscous spices

I tried a Rice-a-Roni trick and toasted the couscous before cooking it. (Also, everything is better with butter, right?)

couscous butter

I wanted a little protein for this vegetarian dish, so I chopped up a few pistachios.

couscous pistachios

A dash of leftover feta in the fridge caught my eye, so I added that, too (feta is Greek, right? And Greece is close to the Middle East, right?)

In the end, the dish was satisfying with just enough “weird” to make me feel creative.

 couscous plated

Roasted Tomato & Grape Couscous

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley from your mother’s garden (or, if your mother is neither a green thumb or as generous as mine, from your own garden. Or the supermarket.)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon feta cheese

Directions: 

  1. Pile tomatoes, grapes and garlic on a baking sheet and douse with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss to coat.
  2. Roast tomatoes, grapes and garlic on the top rake of 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, measure spices and combine in a cup.
  4. Melt butter over medium high heat on stove top. Toast dry couscous for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add spices and toast for another 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  5. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and remove from heat. Let stand about 5 minutes.
  6. To serve, mound couscous on plate and spoon tomatoes and grapes over the top. Be sure to scrape all those yummy juices from baking sheet. Top with pistachios and feta. Serves 1.

couscous closeup

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