Folks, they can’t all be winners. I was slow to return to cooking after the over-indulgence of the holiday season, but since then had had some pretty good luck, inspiring me to pick up the ladle, to wield the spatula once again. I’ll admit, I’ve had my eye on this particular recipe, found here on Epicurious, for quite some time. You see, I have such a thing for israeli couscous that I regularly search for recipes that feature it on Epicurious and elsewhere. I had spotted this one, which also incorporates one of my favorite veggies, butternut squash, several months ago and had filed it away in the recesses of my mind.
Why not make it right away? Well, as you can see in the title, this particular recipe prominently features preserved lemon, an elusive little ingredient I’ve been curious about for quite a while. With this recipe in mind, I bought a bunch of lemons at the farmer’s market in December, and with David Lebovitz’s recipe (yes, the ice cream guy) in hand, I stashed away a jar of lemons, counting the days until they’d be ready and I could finally make this recipe.
What can I say? After all that build up, after all the expectations, it takes a pretty little picture, no? But as for the taste, I was in for some serious disappointment. I have a sweet tooth, but not so much when it comes to dinner. I can get into a little fruit flavor in my dinner when it’s properly balanced by a savory taste, but this recipe was downright sweet. I think the sweetness of the squash and the golden raisins were supposed to be complemented by the muskiness of the lemons and the brightness of the parsley, but all I got was an overwhelming, cloying sweetness that made it difficult to eat more than a few bites at a time.
It may have been my own fault, in part. You see, I had roasted a whole butternut squash earlier in the week, then scooped it out of its skin, resulting in a sort of mashed squash. Although this recipe called for cubes of roasted squash (see the recipe below), I decided to go with the mash, mixing it in until it was evenly distributed throughout. Would it have been less oppressive had the squash been left in its intended form? Quite possibly, since not every morsel of every bite would have been laced with the sweet squash. But even so, I’m not convinced that the results would have been sufficiently different that I would have actually enjoyed eating it. I’m just not willing to give it another go, though you can bet I’ll still have my eyes open for more savory israeli couscous recipes…
Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon (serves 4)
1 preserved lemon
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups Israeli couscous, about 1 lb.
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Halve lemons and scoop out flesh, keeping both flesh and peel. Cut enough peel into 1/4-inch dice to measure 1/4 cup. Put lemon flesh in a sieve set over a bowl and press with back of a spoon to extract juice.
2. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste in a large shallow baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven 15 minutes, or until squash is just tender, and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Cook onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn golden. Add to squash.
4. Cook couscous with cinnamon stick in a large pot of boiling salted water 10 minutes, or until just tender, and drain in a colander (do not rinse). Add couscous to vegetables and toss with 2 tablespoon oil to coat. Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, and salt to taste. Toss to mix well.