A couple weeks ago I made a whole big to-do about having to eat pasta for lunch.
“A completely absurd choice for mid-day,” I’d declared with snobbish bravado.
What I didn’t realize when I was pontificating so loudly on what is and isn’t acceptable to eat between the hours of noon and 3 pm is that I’ve actually been eating a lot of pasta for lunch lately.
Gobs and gobs of it, in fact.
Ever since I discovered how easy it is to make couscous, I’ve been going nuts over the stuff. It’s become my new go-to for work lunches – I whip up a big batch of it on Sunday, dress it up with some fixings and then toss it with some chickpeas and arugula before I head to the office each day. I’ve been loving the break from my Boar’s Head maple glazed turkey sandwiches on whole wheat – a lunch I’ve been eating day after day for basically the past 6 years. And I’ve been loving having something slightly exotic to perk up my afternoon.
In my mind, couscous, which originated in North Africa, was some sort of mystical grain – a still uber-healthy alternative to my beloved quinoa, which I usually eat with whatever I’m fixing for dinner. So I was a bit floored when I realized that couscous is actually made from semolina – the same stuff that's used to make pasta. While, according to Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times, couscous is actually made from crushed durum wheat semolina, not the ground type used for pasta, the two carbohydrates still share a very similar profile.
Similar enough that my cheeks felt a bit rosy when I thought back to how I’d been so assertive about my no-pasta-for-lunch stance.
That said, I’m not about to go abandoning my new go-to lunch grain. It still has a significant amount of protein and fiber, especially when I use the whole wheat version available at Trader Joe’s, and Ms. Shulman also reports that couscous has respectable amounts of manganese, tryptophan and magnesium.
But even if it didn’t have much redeeming value, I’d likely still keep trucking a tub of it with me to work. Especially when that tub contains this curried couscous salad – a sweet and savory mix that has become my latest "exotic" lunchtime obsession.
Curried Couscous Salad
Adapted from Dave Lieberman at Food Network
Adaptations: I reduce the amount of olive oil, use chicken broth to cook the couscous instead of water + salt, use almonds instead of walnuts, and add ginger with the curried powder. I’ve also added in apples, celery, chickpeas, and lemon-dressed arugula to make it more of a substantial meal.
1 cup whole wheat couscous
¾ cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 tablespoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon ginger powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
½ orange, juiced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 scallions, tripped and thinly sliced
¼ cup, chopped fresh Italian parsley
¾ cup celery, finely diced
1 lemon, juiced and divided
¾ cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large pink lady apple, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
4 cups arugula
Freshly ground pepper
In a large pot, bring 2 cups of chicken broth, curry powder, ginger powder, and sugar to a slow boil. Add the couscous and orange juice, and let simmer together for 30 seconds or until it looks as though the couscous is just starting to absorb the water. Turn off the heat, add the dried cranberries, and cover the pot with a lid. Let stand for 8-10 minutes.
While couscous is cooking, combine ½ the lemon juice with the parsley, olive oil and ground pepper. Set aside.
When couscous has absorbed the water, use a fork to toss it with the scallions, celery and lemon dressing until well combined. Let cool completely in the fridge before proceeding.
When cool and ready to serve, toss the couscous with the apple, almonds and chickpeas. Line each plate with arugula, dressed with the reserved lemon juice. Top with a scoop of the couscous.