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Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn, Tomatoes, and Feta

(recipe, Melissa Clark)


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Introduction

Whole-wheat Israeli couscous is technically pasta — semolina flour and water rolled into little pasta balls. (Regular couscous is even tinier pasta balls, by the way.) But whenever I contemplate what to do with it, I consider it a grain — a fast-cooking, nubby little grain that’s as fat and round as barley (though less starchy) and as earthy-tasting as farro (though less chewy). Usually I just serve it as a side dish for saucy sautés, the kind with lots of pan juices for the couscous to absorb. But I also like it in this colorful summery dish, which is a cross between a warm salad and a pilaf. Folding the corn and tomato into the couscous while it’s still warm brings out the vegetables’ flavor, softening them slightly and making them even juicier than they started out. It also makes the feta cheese very creamy. If you do have leftovers, it will make a marvelous light lunch the next day, though you might want to pop the couscous into the microwave for just a few seconds to make everything nice and supple, especially if you’ve stored it in the fridge.

Ingredients

  1. 1 large garlic clove
  2. ¾ tsp. plus 1 pinch kosher salt, or to taste
  3. 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  4. ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  5. 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 1½ cups Israeli couscous, preferably whole-wheat
  7. 1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1 large ear)
  8. 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  9. 3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (optional)
  10. 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

Steps

  1. Using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife, mash the garlic and a pinch of salt to a paste. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic paste, lemon juice, remaining ¾ tsp. salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil.
  2. Cook the couscous according to package instructions; add the corn for last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain well.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the hot couscous-corn mixture, tomato, and vinaigrette. Let the couscous cool for about 10 minutes before gently folding in the feta and basil.

Note

Just about anything goes with this terrific little dish, and you can vary the vegetables, herbs, and cheese to match your mood and what’s in season. Here are a few ideas: Chopped spinach will wilt appealingly if you fold some into the hot couscous, sautéed mushrooms make it autumnal, and roasted red peppers are an excellent substitute for the tomato. Parmesan cheese will give the dish added depth of flavor, and ricotta salata is just tasty anywhere you use it. Fresh rosemary is very appealing used here in place of the basil for several reasons. It’s less likely to turn black when you toss it with the warm couscous and therefore makes a better presentation. And I love its piney flavor and scent with fresh summer tomatoes and briny feta. The textural aspect of the juice-bursting nibs of corn really is nice. I would say it might even be worth using good frozen corn if you can’t get good sweet fresh corn. But that depends entirely upon how you feel about frozen corn.