Israeli couscous with squash, dried cherries & pistachios
an autumnal side dish that also makes for a hearty vegetarian main
I recently came across an old recipe that was a family favorite, and an especially big hit with the kids. It’s funny how cooking for them felt easier when they were little. The apple fell very far from the tree in their case since I was a picky eater poster child, subsisting on PB&J and pasta with butter and locatelli cheese.
My aunt once put sauce on my pasta, resulting in a total meltdown on the floor of her kitchen in New Jersey. She rinsed it clean with water but I still refused to eat it because the pasta was now tainted in my child’s mind. Quite the story for someone who now cans jars of homemade tomato sauce.
This recipe uses Israeli couscous, also labeled pearl couscous, and a fun fact is that it’s actually a pasta, and not a grain. My favorite brand, which used to be challenging to find when I developed the recipe 13 years ago, is a hand-rolled variety made in Tunisia and produced by Les Moulins Majhoub. I’ve seen it available more widely now, and of course buying online is always a resource. Amazon charges a ridiculous price for it but I’ve seen it for less than $10 at other online shops. You can also use pearl couscous, usually manufactured in large batches by machine, and more readily available at grocery stores.
You can cook Israeli couscous two ways—the same as pasta in a pot of boiling water, then drain and proceed with the recipe. I’ve also seen recipes that use the same cooking method as rice. If you’ve worked with it before and have a preferred method, it’s okay to go with that. The couscous gets cooked first, so you can proceed with the rest of my recipe without any issues.
In full disclosure, I haven’t made this in a very long time. It’s a holdover from another life, back when Mikey was alive. I made it often back then as soon as delicata squash started popping up at the farmers’ market. You can swap in butternut squash if you want, though I love the ease of delicata squash since you don’t have to peel it (yes, the skin is edible). Honey nut squash or even acorn squash would be fine substitutes.
I’ve got a few ridiculously overripe bananas on the counter, and am hoping to turn them into banana bread in the next day or two. I’m also hoping to make some ossi dei morti (aka ossa di morto or bones of the dead cookies) for All Soul’s Day later this week since there are no Italian bakeries up here to buy them. The recipe I use is from Savoring Italy, and can be found here.
Last week’s first ever cooking class for paid subscribers was wonderful and soul-nourishing. A group of 12 of us came together on zoom to learn how to make cacio e pepe. I realize it was a little last minute and many of you couldn’t attend, so mark your calendars for the next class on November 16th at 7:00pm EST. It will be Thanksgiving-focused, with more details to come in the next week or thereabouts, so stay tuned.
Reminder the class is included in your benefits as a paid subscriber, so no additional charges except the cost of your groceries. I’m leaning towards doing a demo of how to make my perfect pie crust, along with offering tips for making it advance and freezing it so you’ll have one less thing to do come Thanksgiving week. If you have other Thanksgiving-related ideas you’d prefer to cook during class, I’m all ears. Nothing is written in stone, so feel free to leave comments for me to consider.
Here’s hoping for a gentle start to the week, or as gentle as it can be given the current world circumstances. The fractures of humanity and society at large are a heavy weight to bear. Be well, and remember to be kind, sending positive ripples as you go about your days. —xo, j.