Quiz for the day: What tasty rice substitute was created in Israel?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s legendary first prime minister,  inspired many things, but probably the tastiest is the wheat-based rice substitute he asked an Israeli food processor to devise during the years of Israeli austerity in the 1950s.

His request led Osem, a leading Israeli food manufacturer, to create ptitim (Hebrew for flakes), a tiny, oven-baked pasta shaped like a grain of rice. Later, the pasta was shaped into small balls, which came to be called Israeli (or pearl) couscous.

Osem still produces ptitim and the company is one of several that import it in plain and flavored varieties to the United States. While it is called couscous, it cannot be used interchangeably with traditional North African couscous.

If you use the fennel in the salad recipe below, chop a few teaspoons of the feathery fronds and add them when you add the mint and parsley. Since it’s hard to predict how salty the olives and cheese will be, I’ve made some of the salt optional. Taste the finished salad and see if the extra salt is needed.

The Beet-Tahini Dressing recipe  lasts up to five days when stored airtight in the refrigerator. It makes a tangy yet sweet dip for jicama and other raw vegetables.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Beet-Tahini Dressing

Makes 8 servings

2 cups uncooked plain Israeli couscous

1⁄4 tsp. plus optional 1⁄4 tsp. of salt

1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped fennel root or celery

2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1⁄4 cup minced fresh mint, plus 2 Tbs. for garnish

1⁄4 cup minced fresh parsley, plus 2 Tbs. for garnish

2⁄3 cup of sliced, pitted Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives

8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled into small bite-sized pieces

11⁄2 cups Beet-Tahini Dressing (see recipe below)

Arugula or other fresh greens for serving

Simmer couscous according to package directions. Immediately put warm, cooked couscous in a large bowl and toss with oil, 1⁄4 tsp. salt and pepper until coated. Add carrots, fennel, tomatoes, 1⁄4 cup mint, 1⁄4 cup parsley, olives and cheese and mix well. Taste and add 1⁄4 tsp. salt if desired. Mix in dressing. Serve room temperature or chilled over arugula. Garnish with remaining fresh herbs.

Alternative serving directions: Make as above, but without adding the dressing. Place greens on individual plates, mounding serving of salad on top of each. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with herbs.

Beet-Tahini Dressing

Makes about 2 cups

8 oz. steamed and peeled beets, drained

1⁄4 cup tahini

1⁄2 cup plus 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 cup plus 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs. minced fresh mint leaves

1 garlic clove, chopped

1⁄8 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin

Cut beets in fourths and put in a blender or food processor container. Add tahini, 1⁄2 cup juice, 1⁄4 cup oil, mint, garlic, pepper, salt and cumin. Put lid on and process until smooth and thick. Pour remaining juice and oil through lid while blender or processor is running until incorporated. Taste and correct seasoning. Store airtight in refrigerator.

Faith Kramer
is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].