Back in the 1990s, I used to cook past 12 midnight when I had bad insomnia attacks and it would usually be any of these three dishes
— chicken tinola (the Philippines’ version of chicken soup), spaghetti with meat sauce, and couscous tabbouleh. Don’t ask me why… there’s neither rhyme nor reason for this particular weirdness in my life.
Of the three, the couscous dish is the easiest to make and this often made an appearance when I was battling light insomnia (which means I’d easily go back to sleep after making this). Nigella Lawson didn’t have a show back then so I won’t be accused of emulating the kitchen goddess who seems to have a penchant for raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night. No, the Kitchen Gypsy Pixie has a different quirk.
To be honest, I don’t make couscous from scratch. I am not patient enough to roll by hand the fine grains and do all that. Besides, the only available ones in the supermarket are the instant couscous packages. But I love the fact that couscous is almost a no-cook dish. All you need to do is boil the right amount of water, turn off the heat, and pour the grains into the pan. Cover and wait for five minutes for the grains to absorb all the liquid before fluffing it with a fork. The next phase is building the flavors. Sometimes, I’d just add chopped parsley and tomatoes, lime or lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. At other times, I’d add sultanas and nuts. It’s such a versatile dish anyway and it’s fun experimenting with ingredients. There are days, though, when I’d add in more ingredients, resulting in a sweet-savory dish. The recipe below is one of them:
1 cup couscous
2 cups broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
Heat the broth in a pan and allow to boil. Add a bit of salt. Once it’s boiling, turn off the heat and add in the couscous. Cover and let the grains cook in the steam. After 5-8 minutes, add some butter and fluff with fork. You should get dry, fluffy grains, not soggy ones.
For the toppings:
bell pepper, cubed
spring onion, chopped (optional)
nuts (can be cashew, macadamia, almonds, pistachio, or pumpkin seeds)
feta cheese, optional
Just mix the rest of the ingredients with the couscous, add the lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper. The amount of lemon juice will depend on you. I like my couscous salad tangy. Chill in the refrigerator and serve with lettuce on the side.
There are three ways to eat couscous salad. One is to put a spoonful on a lettuce leaf and wrap it. For this I’d usually add a dollop of garlic-infused yogurt, tomato salsa, guacamole, hummus, or any sauce that catches my fancy (yes, even chili garlic!). Another way is to use it as a filling for either a tortilla wrap or pita pockets, with your choice of meat. Yet another way is to eat it as you would a rice dish or topping.
Or, you can just eat it as it is, without any fancy (and strange) trimmings. Remember not to make too big a batch if you’re not going to share it with others. A couscous dish is good for a couple of days in the refrigerator; beyond that and it won’t taste as good anymore.