A Winter Salad: Spice-Toasted Giant Couscous with Dates and Labneh

To fill around 6 lunchboxes
Well this has got our shop and supper club customers talking, and so we thought we’d share the recipe with you. It is spicy, filling and healthy, and so it’s perfect for Winter lunch boxes.
Giant couscous is also known as Israeli couscous, but is confusingly not as giant as moghrabbieh, its Levantine cousin. It is easier to work with than moghrabbieh, as it is not as starchy, but it gets just as many oohs and aahs when you dish it up as it looks, well, like toy food. Not entirely real.
You can of course make this recipe with any number of grains in place of the couscous. And if you can’t get labneh, just use feta in its place. Black cumin seeds have a fairly unique flavour, but if you can’t find them just substitute green cumin seeds. Oh and finally…if you can’t find pekmez (which is available at all good Greek and Turkish shops), just replace it with pomegranate paste, or (if you’re desperate) brown sauce mixed with extra balsamic vinegar. Why so many alternative ingredient ideas? Because food should never be that stressy, and you should never be slave to a recipe: if you can’t get the right stuff, cheat 🙂

Assemble if you will:

  • olive oil for frying (i.e.not extra virgin)
  • 1 good teaspoon black cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • about 1 1/2 cm fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 200g giant couscous
  • around 500ml of good vegetable stock (or good water)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pekmez (grape syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • 1 bunch spring onions, washed and chopped (or red onion, as in our photo above)
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh coriander, washed and chopped
  • around 24 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 120g labneh balls, roughly crumbled

So all you do is… Heat the oil in a saucepan, and toss in the spices and ginger, stirring constantly. Have the extractor fan on or the window open, as sizzling chilli can make you choke. After half a minute add the couscous, mixing well. Turn it over in the oil until it starts to brown, and then trickle in a little of the stock (just as you would with a risotto). Once the liquid has been absorbed, add a little bit more; repeat until the couscous has swollen and softened. This process should take around twenty minutes. Then wrap the lid of the pan in a clean cloth, turn the heat off and let the contents ‘sweat’ for a further ten minutes before setting the pan aside somewhere to cool.
Once it has cooled to room temperature or thereabouts, whisk the EV olive oil, pekmez, balsmic vinegar and salt together and pour it over the couscous, stirring well. Then add the rest of the ingredients. (By dressing it first and then adding the herbs and cheese the contrasting colours will be preserved for a little longer.)
Serve with warm bread for supper, or as part of a meze. Or spoon it into your finest Tupperware for lunch tomorrow.

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