For the most part, being a coeliac or having coeliac family members is awful all round. There’s so much delicious food coeliacs miss out on which is awful for them, and it can be frustrating for family to try and make food that is as delicious gluten free as it is with gluten. Still, for the first time in my life I rejoiced that Arwen is a coeliac when she told me that Hoglet K had been sent a sample of couscous. For those in the know, couscous is a sort of polenta-ish substance (well, not really, it’s baked pasta), and critically, it is made of wheat. This meant that when Blu sent us a sample of their gourmet Pearl Couscous it had to be me that reviewed it :)
I’ll start by saying that I love couscous, for a lot of reasons. Firstly (and most importantly) it’s delicious. Secondly, it has that same marvellous facility that rice and pasta do, which is that you put it on, walk away and leave it. It’s handier than those as well, since it’s much much faster to cook so if, like me, you tend to forget to put the bulking agent on early enough, you can whack some couscous on and it’s good to go in 5 minutes. Thirdly, it has an unusual texture to it which makes for a nice change from rice or pasta, and it soaks up sauce very well.
I was quite excited then, to try something that might add to my list of standard bases to put flavours with. The grains of pearl couscous are quite a lot bigger than normal couscous- maybe the size of a small lentil? Since I was expecting that the main difference between pearl and normal couscous was going to be texture, I decided to make a tried and true couscous dish of mine so that I could assess the difference fairly.
This particular meal didn’t actually have a name until I started writing this post :) I was visiting a friend of mine 10 or so years ago, and her mother made something like this dish which I liked a lot. Many years later I figured I had a pretty good idea what was in it, and since I liked it a lot a should try and make it myself. This I did, and had a pretty solid recipe I thought was fairly close to the original which I used for a few years, until I eventually went back to visit the same old friend and she made the dish in question using her mother’s recipe. Turns out what I had made tasted nothing like it! Ah memory, how you plague me. Anyway, it’s still pretty tasty and it’s a couscous dish, so I’ve made it for this review.
You start by chopping up 2 large onions and softening them in a little olive oil. Get it pretty golden brown, almost caramelised if you can be bothered. Once that’s pretty well done, add a lot of garlic, by which I mean 7-8 cloves or more. Go nuts with it. This dish is fairly subtle in flavour and once you add all the couscous it gets diluted very quickly. As usual, me being me, I made this in a wok, but an electric frying pan or some similar big pan would work too. Once that’s all looking pretty cooked throw in about 3/4 cup of pine nuts. A lot, I know, and pine nuts are expensive, but they make it so gooooood. Be generous with them! Cook the nuts enough that they go a little golden brown (the ones in the photo have only just been added) but be wary of singeing them as they burn easily. You can just move onto the next step, but cooking the nuts really brings out their flavour and makes them crunchier.
Now, throw in about 500g of lamb or beef, chopped up into small pieces, about the size of the tip of your finger. Smaller is better. While that’s browning, put in about 2-3 tablespoons of cumin powder. Again, you can go nuts with this stuff. It’s to taste, really, but keep in mind that you’re going to add a lot of bulk in couscous so don’t be afraid of making it too strong. A tablespoon of saffron and a tablespoon of coriander seeds (ground) should do it for flavouring. Stir through thoroughly.
Now follow the instructions on the couscous packet to make enough for four people (it’s usually about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup per person, depending on how hoggy your eaters are). Just before the couscous is done, add some chopped parsley and coriander to it, about a cupsworth once it’s chopped. Now stir your couscous/herb mix through the onion/meat/pinenut mix.
Done! I usually serve with a dollop of plain European or Greek yoghurt but it’s not necessary (just tasty).
Now, the pearl couscous! I will be honest and say it confused my mouth :) I’m used to the pinenuts being quite a distinct texture thing in this meal, and they weren’t nearly so noticable with the larger grains. I also found it a bit gluggy, but that may be because I didn’t cook it quite long enough, since when I had some of the leftovers reheated this morning for breakfast, it was much better.
It was quite pleasant, and most importantly it was very different. You can get very bored with rice and pasta and even ordinary couscous, so this as a nice change. I don’t think it suited this particular meal very well since it was big enough that the small pieces got lost in it in terms of texture, but it would be awesome with something more saucy like a curry. My mother loved it and said you could use it for sweet things like lemon sago pudding as well. Have to give that a try!
Update: The Parraglider tried out the Pearl Couscous while bushwalking.