I have a new favorite grain. Israeli couscous (otherwise known as pearl couscous or mughrabiya) is a very large-grained and tender version of ordinary couscous. It is often compared to tapioca, which I think is apt, and it soaks up the flavor of the liquid it is cooked in, leaving you with delightful, chewy little beads of grain. After searching a bit to try to find out more about israeli couscous, I finally found the answers in a book Dylan had once been given, The Foods of Israel Today. Apparently, Israeli couscous was “invented” in the 50s in Israel by a noodle company as an alternative to rice and couscous, both of which were hard to get in Israel during that period. It is actually just an extruded wheat-pasta designed to resemble rice, but really has a texture all of its own.
Anyway, after searching for the grain for quite some time, I found it in the Whole Foods bulk section, and although its price was an order of magnitude higher than rice (about $4/lb), I decided it was worth a try. I had spotted this recipe from Gourmet (April 2005) on Epicurious and thought it might be fun to try for Valentine’s Day. Now I know this might not strike everyone as the most romantic of meals, but it seemed appropriate in that it required a whole lot more effort and time than I would normally spend on a meal. Even in my unemployed state, I have a hard time summoning up enthusiasm to slow-roast tomatoes for 2 1/2 hours. But for my honey on Valentine’s Day, why not? And although I am not usually a salmon lover, I know that most people (Dylan included) appreciate a well-rounded meal, rather than a starchy bowl of pasta (as I prefer).
This recipe had overwhelmingly good reviews on Epicurious and I have to say that my finished product lived up to those raves. Every bit of it was delicious, from the soft, sweet tomatoes to the lemon-oregano scented fish. And of course, the couscous was terrific. Can’t wait to get more of it. I think this recipe would also be lovely with shrimp instead of salmon and should you choose to stick to a more readily available grain, others said the recipe worked well with ordinary couscous or even spaetzle. If you want to make extra lemon oregano oil, it would be a great finish for many dishes. (I made the fish for 2, but the tomatoes and oil for 6 so that we could use them in other dishes later this week.)
Salmon with pearl couscous, slow-roasted tomatoes, and lemon oregano oil (serves 6)
Ingredients for tomatoes and lemon oregano oil:
6 plum tomatoes (1 lb), halved lengthwise
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10 fresh basil leaves
12 whole fresh oregano leaves plus 3 tablespoons finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler and finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Ingredients for couscous:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups pearl (Israeli) couscous (12 oz)
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for salmon:
6 (6-oz) pieces wild salmon fillet with skin (we used farm-raised without skin and it was still great)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives (3 oz), pitted and quartered lengthwise (I omitted these being an olive-hater)
1. Roast tomatoes and prepare oil:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 250°F. Toss tomatoes with sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and arrange, cut sides down, in a small shallow baking pan.
Heat oil in a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in basil and whole oregano leaves, then pour oil over tomatoes. Roast tomatoes until very tender but not falling apart, 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours.
Transfer tomatoes with a spatula to a large plate, then pour oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl or measuring cup, discarding solids. Stir in chopped oregano, zest, juice, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.2. Cook couscous:
Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then toast couscous, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and pale golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth, water, and salt and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and couscous is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes, then stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon oregano oil. Season with salt.
3. Roast salmon while couscous stands:
Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500°F. Line a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan with foil. Arrange salmon, skin sides down, in baking pan, then drizzle with olive oil, rubbing it over tops of fillets, and sprinkle with salt. Roast salmon until just cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes.
Divide couscous among 6 plates. Lift salmon flesh from skin with a slotted spatula and transfer a fillet to each bed of couscous. Put 2 tomato halves on each plate, then sprinkle salmon with olives and drizzle with some lemon oregano oil.
Tomatoes can be roasted 3 days ahead and chilled in oil in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.