Preparing traditional couscous from scratch is a labor intensive task; it requires mixing semolina with oil and water, passing it through a sieve, steaming it in a special pot, mixing it again, and repeating the process once or twice more… No wonder that up until modern times, when the instant couscous was created, this great grain product was not as popular as it is today.
The homemade couscous purists may snub the instant couscous, claiming it is not as tasty as the original. They may be right to some extent, just like those who are in favor of fresh homemade pasta versus dried pasta are. However, just as most of us will not start making fresh pasta for lunch, the same goes with instant couscous. It is extremely easy and quick to prepare, and when made properly, it is tasty and highly versatile. So don’t be deterred by the term “instant” in this case.
Combining couscous with legumes is a well known tradition in North Africa and it increases the nutritional value of the dish, creating a high quality protein.
In North Africa, chickpeas are usually used with couscous, but they require soaking over night and take quite a while to cook. So instead, I’ve decided to use lentils, which cook very quickly. I also happen to like lentils in general, so that was just as good reason to use them..
The seasoning and the addition of fruits were also inspired by the fabulous North-African cuisine, and the result is both colorful and flavorful.
The salad is perfect for a light lunch or as a side dish.
The salad is best served at room temperature. Serve it as is, or topped with grilled chicken, fish or seafood, or with crumbled Feta or Goat cheese.
The salad will keep, in an airtight container, for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature and mix before serving.
* For an explanation on how to extract pomegranate seeds quickly and easily, check under TIPS.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes for the lentils, 15 minutes for the couscous
For the lentils:
1 ½ cups green lentils
¾ cup water
For the couscous:
2 cups fine instant couscous
1 Tbs salt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup golden raisins
3 cups boiling water
For the salad:
2 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries)
1 tsp cumin powder
Juice from 1 large lemon
¼ lemon, chopped (peel and pulp)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs olive oil (additional)
1. Mix the lentils and ¾ cup water in a small pot. (Do not add salt – it will prevent the lentils from cooking quickly). Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft but still keep their shape. Cover and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix the couscous, salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, raisins, and 3 cups boiling water. Cover with plastic warp. Let sit for 15 minutes, until the couscous absorbs the water and softens, and the raisins plump. Fluff gently with a fork.
3. Add the cooked lentils and the rest of the ingredients to the couscous and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add the additional 2 Tbs of olive oil. Mix and serve.