Cooking with Couscous: Comfort Food Gone Global

Sorry, all you Paleo proponents out there, but this post is basically a love letter to grain. Couscous, to be exact. What…did I already give that away in the title or something? Silly me.

couscous grain spotlight

Anyway, this traditional North African staple, made from semolina then¬†steamed until fluffy, pairs fabulously with a diverse range of flavors. From robust winter vegetables to zesty¬†spice blends, it’s the perfect canvas¬†for vegetarian and carnivorous dishes.

My latest kitchen creation features this ingredient as the base for an effortless weeknight meal loaded with colorful veggies and plant-based proteins, plus a sweet and savory seasoning mashup. Just watch: everyone at your dinner table will become couscous converts!

This recipe yields approximately 4 servings, and leftovers are guaranteed. So, you’ve also got a ready-made lunch the next day. #Winning.

warm butternut squash and couscous salad

Ingredients:

1 c. Dried Couscous (I used Moroccan, but Israeli works too)

1 c. Butternut Squash (peeled & cubed)

1/2 c. Chick Peas (drained & rinsed)

1/4 c. Raisins (natural & unsulfured)

1/4 c. Raw Almonds (chopped)

3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 tbsp. Ground Cumin

1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

Sea Salt & Black Pepper (to-taste)

Preparation:

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the Couscous with 1 cup Water and 2 tbsp. Olive Oil, then place the pan on a stovetop burner and bring the water to a rolling boil.
  2. Turn the heat down to a low setting and allow the couscous to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water has been absorbed — about 10 minutes.
  3. While the couscous is simmering, coat the bottom of a skillet with the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, then place the skillet on another stovetop burner and turn the heat to a medium setting.
  4. Add the Butternut Squash,¬†Chick Peas, Raisins and Almonds, then ¬†saut√©, stirring frequently, until the butternut squash has softened — about 15 minutes.¬†
  5. Transfer this mixture into the couscous pan and season with Cumin, Cinnamon, Sea Salt and Pepper, then thoroughly combine all the ingredients together.

couscous recipe

Serving Suggestion:

Although I’m a fan of eating this salad as a stand-alone meal (Meatless Monday, anyone?!), it’s also a versatile side dish for grilled fish,¬†baked falafel or another Middle Eastern-inspired protein.

Raw Spice Bar: a Taste Bud Tour that Begins at Your Front Door!

Listen. We can’t all be certifiably gourmet foodies¬†with access to the world’s most epicurean ingredients — plus, that¬†extra dash of¬†pretension on the side.

Or, can we…?

Turns out, if you’ve got an oven and a whopping $6 to spare, those fancy-schmancy “Food Network” professionals have nothing on you! ¬†Even if your kitchen is a battleground of failed culinary attempts, who’s keeping score?

RawSpiceBar¬†sure isn’t. This small-batch subscription service takes the guesswork out of creating memorable dishes, thanks to an uber affordable (hello…6 bucks!) monthly delivery of unique spice blends sourced from across the globe. These freshly ground seasonings are also paired with chef-inspired recipes, authentic to each spice’s native region.

For instance, the theme for September is “Istanbul Spice Box,” so all featured flavors hail from the vibrant Turkish marketplace. This month, RawSpiceBar treated my taste buds to a¬†distinctive East-meets-West sampling of exotic, earthy spices with that perfect punch of heat.

Inside these individually portioned packets, I found Za’atar, Baharat and Urfa Pepper — none of which I’d ever heard of (much less, used in cooking). These spice blends combine rustic¬†Middle Eastern textures with a savory Mediterranean bite…and all three won me over!

Raw Spice Bar zaatar

“Originating as far back as the 13th century, ZA’ATAR is a Turkish cook‚Äôs closely guarded secret, bringing zest to every dish it touches. Thyme and sesame seeds provide a nutty flavor, balanced by floral herbs and acidic sumac. Stir into olive oil and serve on bread, dust on eggs and oatmeal, or use as dry rub on chicken and vegetables.”

Raw Spice Bar baharat

“BAHARAT is a spice staple in Turkish cooking — the name itself means ‘spices’ in Arabic. Used in everything from seafood to soup, this blend brings together coriander, cumin and black peppercorn with warm spices like cinnamon, allspice and cloves, rounded out by sweet paprika.”

Raw Spice Bar urfa pepper

“Often described as raisins meets coffee, this dried Turkish¬†chili¬†is smoky, almost sweet, and¬†imparts a deep, red-maroon tinge to everything it touches. URFA¬†chilis pair well with braised meats, eggplants or red peppers, and give great depth to spreads with dairy or hummus.”

So, that’s the lowdown on our culinary headliners. Now, here comes the all-important taste test. Earlier this afternoon, I experimented with a mishmash of flavor profiles from both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, added a few dashes of those honorary star spices, and — voila! ¬†lunch was served.

I call my creation…drumroll, please…

Veggie Quinoa Bowl & Avocado Crema:

Ingredients:

1 clove Garlic

1/4 cup Quinoa

1/4 tsp. Za’atar

1/2 tsp. Baharat

1/4 tsp. Urfa Pepper

1/2 cup Onions (sliced)

1/2 cup Tomatoes (chopped)

For the Crema:

1 tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1/3 cup Green Yogurt (plain)

1/2 Avocado (mashed)

1 Mint Sprig (for garnish)

Raw Spice Bar quinoa bowl ingredients

Preparation:

  1. Pre-heat a pot on a medium-high stovetop setting and cook the Quinoa according to package directions.
  2. Once the¬†Quinoa starts to soften, stir in¬†the Garlic, Urfa Pepper, Za’atar and Baharat, then allow the Quinoa to finish simmering.
  3. Combine the Avocado, Greek Yogurt and Olive Oil until smooth.
  4. When the Quinoa is fork-tender, transfer to a bowl and top with the Onion and Tomato.
  5. Spread the Crema over the other ingredients and garnish with Mint.

Raw Spice Bar quinoa bowl

I also recommend trying out RawSpiceBar’s own recipe corner — whether you’re a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan, these tantalizing dishes won’t disappoint! Here’s a sneak peek to whet your appetite:

Looks delicious. Or, as they say in Turkey…looks¬†lezzetli. Who says eating can’t make you multicultural?!

Good thing I’m always hungry.