September 01, 2011

Couscous with Dried Fruit and Almonds

While planning to make the Lamb Chops with Hot Pepper Cherry Sauce featured in yesterday's post, I gave some thought to what I would be serving along with the lamb chops.  Couscous is often served along with lamb in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, and since I hadn't made anything with couscous in awhile, I decided to go with that idea.  I decided adding some chopped fruit - including cherries - to the couscous would make it go well with the fruit-topped lamb chops.  I also knew from experience that nuts go well with couscous, so I decided to add some slivered almonds to provide more flavor and a different texture.  I usually make couscous with broth instead of water to make it more flavorful, and I decided that with the fruit and nuts, I wouldn't need to add much else in the way of seasonings.  Frying the couscous in olive oil before adding the liquid makes the couscous itself more flavorful, so that was a must.  I decided all it needed beyond that was some red onion and cumin, to provide a bit of a Middle Eastern flavor, plus a bit of salt and pepper. 

The couscous turned out great:  Tender and flavorful, with delightful chunks of fruit and/or almonds in every bite.  It did go along great with the lamb chops, and drizzling a bit of the spicy cherry sauce on top made for a delicious combination as well.  This couscous recipe will serve just as well with a lot of other dishes, and particularly those with a fruit sauce.   Since I love to cook meat with fruit sauces, I expect this recipe will be seeing more use in the future.

Couscous with Dried Fruit and Almonds

yield = 4 servings

2                  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2               cup grated red onion
1                  cup large (Israeli or maftoul) couscous
1                  teaspoon ground cumin
1 3/4            cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4               cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4               cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3               cup slivered almonds
1/4               teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4               teaspoon table salt

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.   Add red onion and cook two minutes, then add couscous and cook, stirring often, until golden brown (2-3 minutes). 

Stir in cumin and cook until fragrant (about 45 seconds), then add chicken broth and stir in chopped apricots and cherries, sllivered almonds, pepper and salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, then cover the Dutch oven and remove from heat.  The couscous will continue to absorb what liquid remains in the pot.

Stir with a spoon, then serve.

Cooking Tips:
Much of the couscous you find in supermarkets is the standard stuff with really small grains.  That is good, but I personally prefer the larger Israeli and Middle Eastern varieties, which are a bit more flavorful and which hold up better to browning in oil before adding the liquid (the smaller variety is more prone to burning).  This style of couscous can be found most readily in kosher or Middle Eastern groceries.  I've gotten consistently good results with Ziyad brand Mafoul.

This dish is easy to customize to go along with different sorts of fruit sauces.  Simply vary the mix of fruit, using raisins, chopped dried apples or chopped dried cranberries in place of the dried cherries.  I'd leave the apricots, as they are a common ingredient to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.

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