Cook | Israeli couscous is plain for kids, flavorful for adults

Some families have excellent discipline and moral standards. They produce children who try new things and eat what they are served without whining. I do not know any of these families, but I wake up frequently from nightmares in which they exist and judge me.

Our children rule our dinnertime side dishes. Their laws dictate that rice, pasta or quesadillas feature prominently at every meal. The strategy is this: Yes, you can have some pasta, but only after you eat your fish. Sure you can have two bowls of plain rice, but only after you eat all your vegetables. I’m sure this does not bode well for their future, in which life will not adhere to a well-mapped bribery system.

On a practical level, this means every interesting meal in our house is accompanied by something completely plain that can be gussied up for the grown-ups halfway through the recipe. Israeli couscous is ideal.

Also known as ptitim, Israeli couscous can be marketed to the very young as pearl-shaped pasta and then dressed with herbs and other exciting things for adult consumption. It was invented in Israel in the early 1950s in response to a nationwide rice shortage. Made from bulghur, it is roasted to give it a slight, nutty flavor. When cooking Israeli couscous at home, toast it in a little oil before cooking it in stock to tighten the texture and add an extra layer of flavor.


Israeli Couscous with Apricots and Mint

Serves 4-6

2 Tbs. olive oil

1⁄4 cup shallots, finely chopped

1⁄2 tsp. curry powder

13⁄4 cups Israeli couscous

2 cups chicken or veggie stock

1⁄2 tsp. salt

2 Tbs. Meyer lemon juice

11⁄4 cup apricots, diced small (about 2 medium apricots)

1⁄2 cup mint, julienned

3 Tbs. shelled pistachios, toasted

plenty of freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, heat olive oil until shimmering. Sauté shallots for 30 seconds. Add curry powder and couscous. Stir until couscous is golden and toasted, about 2-3 minutes. Add stock and salt and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer 9-12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove plain portions for the children. Transfer couscous to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Stir in lemon juice, apricots, mint, pistachios and black pepper.


Moroccan Halibut

Serves 4

4 (6-oz.) halibut fillets

1⁄3 cup lime juice

1⁄4 cup fish sauce

2 Tbs. tamarind concentrate

2 tsp. brown sugar

11⁄2 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbs. grapeseed oil

plenty of freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbs. minced parsley or cilantro

Place halibut in a sealable, large glass container. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind paste, brown sugar, coriander, turmeric and salt. Set 3 Tbs. of marinade aside, and pour remainder over fish. Refrigerate fish for 30 minutes. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the grapeseed oil. Remove fish from marinade and season with pepper. Add fish to the pan. Sear 3 minutes on one side. Flip with a fish spatula and cook 2 more minutes. Add the reserved 3 Tbs. marinade on top of the fish (use the reserved marinade, not the marinade that touched the raw fish). Cook 2-3 more minutes until fish is cooked through. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Josie A.G. Shapiro, who won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is

Josie A.G. Shapiro

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff and is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.”