THE NEVER-ENDING SIDE DISH: STREGA NONA IN MY KITCHEN

by Jan 22, 2021

WHEN WILL I EVER LEARN?!

Sometimes I cook more than one person can eat, and I live alone.  Did I say “sometimes”?! Well, okay, most of the time. If I don’t freeze the leftovers, I diligently try to give food away to family and friends. 

One evening, I decided I wanted some couscous with my chicken.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think about how much those little, teeny-tiny pieces expand when cooked.  Or how it grows exponentially when fluffed with a fork as it is scraped into a bowl. I realized it seemed to grow like the pasta in Strega Nona.  Even though it was one of my favorite books to read to the kids when they were little, I did not enjoy experiencing a similar event in my own kitchen.

If you don’t know the story, here it is in a nutshell: The Grandma Witch, Strega Nona, has a magic pot of pasta and is able to make as much pasta as she wants, when she wants. One day, when she leaves, her helper Anthony uses the magic pot, even though he was told not to touch it. The magic pot of pasta overflows until it covers the house and endangers the village.  Strega Nona comes back in time to stop the magic over flow and Anthony learns a lesson about responsibility and consequences.  

After the second day of leftovers, I still had to deal with the consequences of my behavior and decided to turn the couscous into a salad that would be a vegetarian meal.  It also provided an opportunity to clean out the refrigerator and use up bits of this and that. So, I gathered all kinds of delicious, healthy ingredients to add to the couscous. 

THREE TYPES OF COUSCOUS

There are three types of couscous (ranging in size from smallest to largest): Moroccan, Israeli (Pearl), and Lebanese.  Moroccan couscous often comes in boxed packets with seasoning but is also readily available in bulk food aisles of grocery stores.  It looks almost like a grain and is the most readily available of the three. The Israeli and Lebanese versions are rounder balls and generally available in bags without additional seasoning.  

All three types are great as blank slates for creative cookery. Add chopped garlic, onions, carrots or celery and substitute broth for water. Serve it warm for couscous pilaf! Or follow my recipe below for leftovers.

My favorite couscous is Israeli/Pearl couscous because I love the texture. But for this leftover-everything-in-the-fridge kind of recipe, I used the leftover Moroccan couscous. 

I love the crunch of nuts in this type of hearty winter salad. When I want just a few nuts, I dry toast them in a small pan on the stove top. Be sure to stir them frequently until they start to smell heavenly and gain a nice, golden color. Immediately pour the nuts out onto a paper towel to stop the cooking and let them cool. Chop all components that you have on add, drain the canned beans (you could use any kind you like), toss in fresh herbs if you have them.  Make a simple vinaigrette using lemon juice and olive oil, then toss it all together.  Easier than pie!

You can, of course, create your own Couscous Salad Masterpiece based on whatever you have on hand.  But, DU-U-UH, after adding all those vegetables and even more ingredients like Garbanzo Beans, I made the couscous grow out of control again!  Luckily my daughter and son-in-law only live 2 miles away…

COUSCOUS SALAD

  • 1 1/2 cups water or broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup uncooked Moroccan couscous
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup each chopped fresh vegetables such as bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, green onions
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup toasted almonds or pine nuts

DRESSING:

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Bring water and butter/oil to boil; stir in couscous. Cover and remove from heat.  Let stand 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff and separate couscous as you scrape it into a bowl.  Let cool until room temperature.  Stir in all chopped vegetables, beans, feta cheese, and nuts.  If you want the nuts to stay crispy, serve them separately to sprinkle on top. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

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