Monday, April 9, 2012

Israeli CousCous with Asparagus, Peas and Goat Cheese


Texture is one of the fundamental elements that make up a good meal.  Texture adds dimension and intrigue to each bite, peaking the curiosities of your mouth.  For me, Israeli couscous delivers in the texture department every time, offering little balls of pasta that are silky, smooth and round.  Coupled with crisp asparagus, peas just waiting to be popped and creamy goat cheese and you have a very vibrant, active plate, each flavor and ingredient expressing themselves in a unique way.  This vegetarian dish is light and playful, offering the best of what spring has to offer, in less than 20 minutes.  And I think we all know convenience is another fundamental element of a good meal... or it is in foodie-girl's world... especially when it tastes this good!






Outside of the couscous, the crux of this meal falls on the asparagus.  The story begins with four cups of water boiling away on the stove, a bowl of ice water sitting nearby.  To the boiling water, add a sprinkling of kosher salt and three quarters cup chopped asparagus.  Allow the asparagus to blanch for two and a half minutes.


As soon as the blanching is complete, remove the asparagus and place directly into the ice water.  This process is called 'shocking' and it stops the cooking quickly, allowing the asparagus to stay crisp and maintain their beautiful green hue.  Make sure to hang on to the pot of asparagus water and keep it at a boil... you'll need it in just a bit!


In a separate pot, add two tbs olive oil and warm for one minute.  When hot but not smoking, add one cup diced onion, two cloves garlic, minced, and one quarter tsp red pepper flakes (up this to one half tsp if you want more of a kick).  Stir to combine and saute for three minutes, allowing the onions to soften.


The couscous is up next and you will need one cup.


Add directly to the pot and allow to toast for one minute.


Remember that beautiful asparagus water we have, still boiling away?  It will act as the perfect liquid element to cook our couscous, carrying the asparagus flavor all the way through the dish.  Vegetable stock or chicken stock are great options as well, just make sure you bring the liquid to a boil before adding it to the couscous.  You will need one and one quarter cup of the asparagus water.  Add it to the couscous and bring to a boil, mixing in one half tsp kosher salt.  Stir, cover, and reduce the heat to low.  Allow to simmer for seven minutes.


Once seven minutes have passed, remove the cover and add the asparagus along with three quarters cup frozen peas.  Stir to combine and add an additional one half tsp kosher salt and one quarter tsp fresh ground black pepper.


We have a great base going at this point, but we need a few players to really bring it home - to enhance what we have built and take it to the next level.  The juice from one half of a lemon along with fresh basil will get us there, the goat cheese waiting for the very finish.


Mix in the lemon juice and basil and allow to warm for two-three minutes, until the peas are just thawed and hot but not mushy.  The crunch and pop of the pea is an important element in the texture playground that is this dish.


Once the peas are pop-able, plate the couscous and top with one ounce of crumbled goat cheese.  It will slowly melt into the couscous adding a final creaminess to counteract the crispy, crunchy vegetables.  This is an excellent spring-time supper that can stand on its own or compliment shrimp, chicken or pork.  However you choose to serve this dish just make sure to take the time to enjoy what every bite has to offer.  It tells a very lively story.



Continue reading for the ingredient list and step-by-step directions!


Makes Two Main Courses or Four-Six as a Side

  • three quarters cup of chopped asparagus
  • three cups of ice water in a bowl
  • two tbs olive oil
  • one cup onion, diced
  • two cloves garlic, minced
  • one quarter tsp red pepper flakes
  • one cup Israeli couscous
  • one tsp kosher salt, divided
  • one quarter tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • three quarters cup frozen peas
  • one half cup fresh chopped basil
  • the juice from half of a lemon
  • one ounce goat cheese, crumbled
Bring four cups of water to boil.  To the boiling water, add a sprinkling of kosher salt and three quarters cup chopped asparagus.  Allow the asparagus to blanch for two and a half minutes.  As soon as the blanching is complete, remove the asparagus and place directly into the ice water.  Make sure to hang on to the pot of asparagus water and keep it at a boil.
In a separate pot, add two tbs olive oil and warm for one minute.  When hot but not smoking, add one cup diced onion, two cloves garlic, minced, and one quarter tsp red pepper flakes (up this to one half tsp if you want more of a kick).  Stir to combine and saute for three minutes, allowing the onions to soften.  Add the couscous directly to the pot and allow to toast for one minute.  Add one and one quarter cup of the asparagus water to the couscous and bring to a boil, mixing in one half tsp kosher salt.  Stir, cover, and reduce the heat to low.  Allow to simmer for seven minutes.  Once seven minutes have passed, remove the cover and add the asparagus along with three quarters cup frozen peas.  Stir to combine and add an additional one half tsp kosher salt and one quarter tsp fresh ground black pepper.  Mix in the lemon juice and basil and allow to warm for two-three minutes, until the peas are just thawed and hot but not mushy.
Plate the couscous and top with one ounce of crumbled goat cheese.  Serve immediately. 

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