Israeli couscous is also known as ptitim. It was invented during the austerity period in Israel, when rice was scarce. (I was surprised to read it's mainly a children's dish in Israel. Certainly not the case here, where it's considered a "gourmet" item.) It's made of semolina pellets about the size of peppercorns. The little balls are much chewier than the smallest (Moroccan) couscous and holds up better to sauces- even in a cold salad—there's no mush. I read a quote recently comparing Israeli couscous to Moroccan couscous: " It's akin to the difference between steel-cut oats and quick-cook oatmeal, but maybe even more extreme."
I had seen this recipe using Israeli couscous in Gourmet magazine, cut it out and then it languished in my file. When I recently walked into Williams Sonoma and saw a display of all three kinds of couscous, I remembered the recipe, bought the Israeli couscous and gave it a try.
The tomato vinaigrette was marvelous. Roasting tomatoes always gives them such a wonderful depth of flavor. I've done it many times to make my caprese salad, but it never occurred to me to make a vinaigrette with them. As it happened, I took this dish to a pot luck lunch. Nobody had ever eaten anything like it, everyone loved it and asked where to buy the couscous. They'd only made dishes with the Moroccan type. This was such a success, I'm going to try the Lebanese couscous next. Any favorite recipes out there?
Israeli Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes
Gourmet, September 2002
For roasted tomatoes and dressing:
2 pints red grape or cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 lb)
3 large garlic cloves, left unpeeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 and 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 and 1/4 cups Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
To roast tomatoes and make dressing:
Preheat oven to 250°F.
Halve tomatoes through stem ends and arrange, cut sides up, in 1 layer in a large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pan. Add garlic to pan and roast in middle of oven until tomatoes are slightly shriveled around edges, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on a rack 30 minutes.
Peel garlic and puree with oil, water, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the roasted tomatoes (reserve the rest) in a blender until dressing is very smooth.
Make the couscous:
Bring broth to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and stir in couscous, then simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Cover pan and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes. Spread couscous in 1 layer on a baking sheet and cool 15 minutes.
Put it all together:
Transfer couscous to a bowl and stir in the olives, parsley, mint and thyme, the dressing, the reserved roasted tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6.
Do ahead: Roasted tomatoes, dressing, and couscous can be made 1 day ahead and kept separately, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.