Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whole Wheat Couscous Salad



First, I have to start out by bragging a bit, about my friend Jamie who recently started a food blog! I am so delighted that Jamie has joined the blogging world. Jamie and I met 8 years ago (wow!), and she is such a brilliant, wonderful, witty, warm, talented person, and a fabulous, exuberant chef and foodie... For her first post she made potage and homemade flatbread - need I say more? :-) Please do give her a wave and a welcome over at her gorgeous new veg blog, No Animals Lots of Carbs - the name of which says wonders about her fun and healthful kitchen!

Back in my kitchen, it dawned on me that I should probably devote an entire post to some notes and mutterings about za'atar, since I have found myself including it in more blogged recipes lately... As you may already know, za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend, loosely and typically composed of oregano and marjoram, sometimes thyme, and always sesame seeds and a bit of salt. Depending on the region from which your za'atar originates, the mixture may also contain cumin, sumac, coriander, fennel, or savory. There are a variety of za'atar recipes floating about the web, and I have linked to one or two of these in recent posts, for za'atar is still a bit elusive and unusual here in the states... For years I couldn't find za'atar anywhere stateside, and I took to filling an entire small suitcase with jars of za'atar whenever I was in Israel, that I might have enough za'atar to tide me over until the next voyage. Now, though, I've seen it arise in unsuspecting locations with increasing frequency, and I always have to stop myself from purchase a jar or two out of sheer joy. Penzeys Spices, for example, now offers za'atar, and while I haven't tried their blend yet and thus can't vouch for it personally, I can enthusiastically claim Penzeys as one of my favorite spice shops.

Nonetheless, despite the improved availability of za'atar and even though I realize that storing spices and herbs long-term is far from the ideal culinary situation, I still haven't outgrown my habit of storing massive quantities of Israeli za'atar in the pantry, toted home carefully on the plane. I confess I once left bottles of shampoo behind with a family friend in order to make room in my suitcase for more za'atar containers!

Perhaps it is simply nostalgia, or the fact that I have become used to the particular blend of za'atar found in large shaker jars in supermarkets in Tel Aviv, a degree of specificity I usually do not demand from my other ingredients - I tend not, for example, to insist that my pasta come only from a particular shop in southern Italy, although it might be gorgeous - albeit way too fanciful - to be able to do so...

I would argue, though, that za'atar is at least a reasonable ingredient about which to be fussy - after all, its flavor is explosive, tasting as though a batch of oregano met up with some toasted sesame and some unnamed magic along the way, and is now begging to be tossed with olive oil on a salad...

sprinkled with Parmesan across toast...

whisked into scrambled eggs...

shaken liberally into olive oil drizzled hummus...

pressed with feta cheese between folds of pita bread...

or, perhaps, used to enliven some whole wheat couscous and toasted almonds...


Whole Wheat Couscous Salad with Za'atar and Toasted Almonds

1/4 cup whole almonds
1 cup whole wheat couscous
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 T butter or light vegan marg
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 T za'atar

~ Spread the almonds across a baking sheet, and toast them in a 350 degree oven just until they reach a deeper shade of brown.
~ Allow the almonds to cool, then pulse them in a food processor until just some of the almonds are coarsely chopped, leaving some of them still whole.
~ Bring the vegetable broth, olive oil, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan.
~ Stir the couscous into the boiling broth, cover, remove from the heat, and allow the couscous to stand for 5 minutes.
~ Fluff the couscous with a fork, then fold in the butter or marg, Parmesan cheese, za'atar, and toasted almonds.
~ Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm or cold!

13 comments:

Parita said...

Thats very healthy and fulfilling salad..i would love to make this!!!

Michele said...

yum! what a great way to use za'atar. I like it on oven baked tofu too =)

Gita said...

Za'atar sounds very interesting, I have a middle Eastern friend...may be I can ask her about that. I have never tired couscous before though I did see whole wheat couscous recently. Thanks for sharing this healthy recipe...I have to try this one soon :)

stephchows said...

As always delicious and innovative :) and of course tasty!! Can't wait to check your friends page, love the name!

The Diva on a Diet said...

Astra, this looks really, REALLY good. What a great summer side dish. Love it!

Looking forward to checking out your friend's new blog too. Thanks for the tip! :)

Libby said...

Hi! I wanted to both thank you for your comment on my last post, and tell you I was thinking about you today. I had an unexpected doctor's appointment this morning, and so missed breakfast to get there on time. I spent all my waiting time dreaming about food (ooh, eggs would be good for breakfast...and some biscuits..or blueberry muffins? And so on). So I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and then made a huge brunch--buttermilk biscuits, blueberry pancakes, ham, cantaloupe, and M. made eggs for us. A happy meal ensued, especially since N. decided he loves blueberry pancakes! Thanks for all your food inspirations!

Jamie said...

Oh, Astra, I am blushing! So sweet of you -- thanks so much for mentioning my blog! A lovely post again, as always. xo

Gina said...

Za'atar is completely new to me! Thanks for the info. I'm glad you enjoyed my fiber post :) I think that I posted some information that was important for people in the blog world to know. It definitely opened my eyes too!

Kitchen Flavours said...

Oh wow healthy and yum....looks awesome.....I like your blog header....it's super cool....

eatingRD said...

oh my goodness, that sounds great! I've never hear of Za'atar before, but I want to try some. Too bad it is so hard to find. I love cooking with dynamic spices and flavors. I wanted to try sumac and had to drive all over town looking for a place that had it!
-kristen

Kerstin said...

I've never heard of Za'atar before - it sounds so flavorful! Whole wheat couscous is my favorite side dish because it cooks so quickly :)

♥peachkins♥ said...

I haven't tried couscous,much more whole wheat couscous..I wonder how it tastes like...

Allie said...

This looks awesome. I love za'atar, too - though my favourite always contains sumac.