Israeli couscous with fennel and shallots

Lovely, pebbley Israeli couscous tossed with fennel and shallots.

Lovely, pebbly Israeli couscous tossed with fennel and shallots.

If you’re anything like me, the texture of your food has a lot to do with how much you enjoy it. I have such issues with texture that I can’t even look at dried coral because the crazy ribbing drives me nuts; there’s something so weird and abnormal about it. I know it’s weird – hey, I’m a little weird – but there you go. However, there are a lot of pleasing textures out there, too, like rabbit fur, rose petals, melted chocolate, and a ripe peach. And here’s one more to add to the list: Israeli couscous.

I discovered this awesome grain (actually it’s a white pasta-like dough pushed through a sieve-like mold to form little balls) a few years ago when I picked up some of Whole Foods’ curried couscous salad with pecans and cranberries. This salad changed my outlook on curry, turmeric, vinegar, and, of course, couscous. I never knew couscous – whose tiny, choking-hazard-size-granules I’d never cared for previously – came Adult Sized. Fantastic! The whole salad made my taste buds come alive, and I couldn’t get over the texture and shape of that couscous for years. I loved the big squishy pebbles – kind of crazy, but mostly fun. Well, it took me years to track down some Israeli couscous in a grocery or specialty food store, but thank goodness Wegmans in Bridgewater, NJ, pulled through. I’ve made a few variations of that great Whole Foods salad since then, but I like making my own recipes. Here’s one inspired by a salad with parsley and shallots by Martha, but this is a very, very loose adaptation. However, it’s a very good one: light, fluffy, and simple with a mellow yet fresh taste. It’s all I could do not to shovel it into my mouth heaping spoonful by heaping spoonful … but I didn’t … I swear ….

  • 1 bulb fennel, including some stalks, chopped into 1/4″-1/2″ pieces
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, preferably kalamata
  • 2 shallots, medium dice
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 4 cups water (I suppose vegetable stock would do here)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fronds from fennel bulb, chopped coarsely

Sauté the fennel in 1 Tbsp oil over medium low heat; salt the fennel (yes, this could be considered a sweat). Cook the fennel until it starts getting translucent, then add the shallots. Keep cooking until the fennel has softened but still has a bite to it. Add the couscous, tossing in the fennel-shallot mixture, and then add the liquid. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low to medium. The couscous will absorb the water in about 10 minutes, but keep watch so it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper, add the second tablespoon of olive oil (or less) and mix until the grains fall about each other loosely. Stir in the fennel fronds … and enjoy!


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