Welcome spring!

If you shop Trader Joe’s, you might know Israeli couscous–a bit more like round orzo than couscous.  Maybe you buy it?  And if you live in the metro D.C. area or read papers online, you might have read a recipe from the Washington Post a few weeks ago for a Toasted Israeli Couscous Primavera.  I do not live in the D.C. area, though I did for years; these days my traveling husband occasionally brings me a WP home to Saint Paul.  I’m always glad to get it because it was the first paper away from Chicago to which I became really attached.   And as a food blogger, I like seeing what’s going on somewhere else food-wise.   If  you’re a regular reader, you know I rarely blog a recipe from a newspaper.  Until recently when I jumped on board the fun 50 Women Game-Changers in Food blogging adventure, I  blogged almost exclusively original recipes. This one’s yummy, though, and I wanted it on my own site–if only for my own self!  You can, and I did, buy everything you need to make this recipe at any Trader Joe’s.

I don’t know how you feel about Trader Joe’s.  People praise it to the highest heavens and you would have thought our lives were being saved from the plague if you listened to the around-town chat before the store opened on its tight corner with underground parking.   I was in grad school at St. Thomas that summer, and even I heard about it.   And this is a city with fine, locally-owned groceries we can walk to in nearly every neighborhood.  The beauty of Saint Paul!

So I’m of mixed emotions over what’s there–inside Trader Joe’s, I mean.  First off, I’m not drinking that wine not no-how.  Not even in Sangria.  I mean, have you tasted it?   I’d rather drink Coke and be sober.   Secondly, the produce (even though you can get cool things like fresh English peas) looks a little sad, a bit used, and not real green in both its meanings.  I mean, why wrap Italian parsley up on paper plates and in plastic?  The other thing is I have the sense (with no reason, I think) that some of this food might be processed in ways I wouldn’t like or in China maybe.   I feel like a snob.  And guess I am.  I repeat:  I have no basis for these feelings or ideas.  I even looked on the boxes of a few things I bought.  The Israeli couscous, for instance, says “Made in Israel.”  Duh.  The canned salmon is wild from Alaska.  Huh.

The chef is always right.  This sign is right by my main prep space.  Just cookin’.

But I go.  Once in a while.  I’ll only go at very specified times.  Like 10am on Tuesday.  If you try and shop at our Trader Joe’s in the afternoon, evening, or on the weekends, you just can’t get in and out of the parking lot or nearby streets.  The location, albeit the only one they could obtain in our city, is crowded, crowded.   While I’m there, I grab up stuff like sparkling pink lemonade in beautiful liter bottles, peanut-butter stuff pretzel chunks that are addictive, boxes of 100-calorie each scrumptious Belgian milk chocolate, and maybe even a plant or two.  Sometimes a little cheese, though I feel guilty not buying it at our local cheese shop, St. Paul Cheese, which is all of four blocks from my house.

Just because I should, I did a little digging and, if you’d like, you can read a professional review–a bit dated– of Trader Joe’s here.  It’s all good.  Nothing to substantiate my weird, stuck up feelings.
Well,  now that that’s off my chest…I can go on about the recipe.  Right?

I tape upcoming recipes on the door.
Things I’m testing or things I’d like to make sometime go up.  The couscous was up for a while before I got to it.

A wonderfully simple all-in-one spring side dish (or summer-add whatever vegetables), we enjoyed this as a foil to a rosemary-roasted pork loin drizzled with homemade barbeque sauce for our second annual “Lilacs are Blooming” dinner party.  (A leek soup with a bit of bacon was the first course that night, but that’s another blog.)  Appearing and tasting something like  risotto, this is much easier; the couscous is cooked in only 10 minutes and the entire dish in about 15–no long-lived ladling and stirring.     My notes or changes are in red.   Try this:

toasted israeli couscous primavera  courtesy WP/Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
  4 main-dish servings; 6 side-dish servings

2T olive oil, divided
2/3 c chopped scallions (1 bunch, white and light green parts)  I used ramps
1 1/2 cups dried Israeli couscous
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups no-salt added or homemade chicken broth, heated just to boiling
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon (2t zest, 2T juice)
8 oz asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted, or blanched fresh peas
2 oz baby spinach leaves
Aleppo pepper to taste
2T fresh parsley, chopped

  1. Heat 1 T of the oil in a 2-3 qt over medium heat.  Add the sallions; cook 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until just softened.
  2. Add the couscous and season with salt and pepper to taste; stir to combine.  Add the hot broth, lemon zest and juice.
  3. Bring to a boil and add asparagus and peas; cover.  Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so the broth is barely bubbling at the edges, until the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is cooked through.
  4. Combine the spinach, the parsley and the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large serving bowl.  Add the cooked couscous and vegetables and stir until the spinach has wilted.  
  5. Dust with aleppo pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve immediately.

Author’s Notes:  Couscous cooks quickly, and when it’s done, it will stick to the pan.   Keep a close eye on it, and stir every few minutes.  After cooking, the couscou will clump together if you let the dish sit too long.  Serve immediately, or add more oil if you plan to make the dish ahead of time.  Vegetable broth can be substituted for the chicken broth if desired.

My notes:  I didn’t add more oil, but I did add more broth to keep the dish moist.  I made it  right before our guests arrived for dinner, turned it off, and reheated it for serving.  It was tender,  moist, quite warm, and was not over-cooked even though I had kept it covered.

Made Derby pies for a friend’s Derby party…

Congratulations to Poor Man’s Feast--the blogging winner for the James Beard Awards!  Give a shout-out!

Sing a new song,
Alyce