Pearl couscous with arugula and dried cherries (4 servings)

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One of my favorite things about cooking is experimenting with interesting varieties of familiar ingredients. Earlier this week, I tried Israeli (or pearl) couscous for the first time. Like regular couscous, it's not a grain but a type of pasta; however, the individual kernels are much larger and chewier than with common couscous. The squishy yet firm texture was oddly fascinating. You know that little packet of beads you get with a new pair of shoes -- the one that says "DO NOT EAT" all over it? I bet they'd feel like Israeli couscous if you tried to eat them. (But please don't. I can't be held responsible for the effects.)

The Kitchn's original recipe calls for whole wheat pearl couscous, but I wasn't able to find that type, so I just used the kind in the bulk bin at Whole Foods. I made a few changes to the recipe, skipping the celery and shallot and swapping almonds for walnuts. I can't fully describe how good this is. It's soft and crunchy, tart and sweet. It's also very filling and quite healthy, too. It's a cinch to put together, and the fact that it can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold makes it incredibly versatile. I'm definitely making this one again soon.

You will need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 + 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/3 cup pearl couscous
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup packed baby arugula leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, slightly toasted
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 2 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded or diced

Steps:

  1. Put the water and 2/3 cups of the orange juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for 18-20 minutes. Once all the liquid has been absorbed, pour the couscous out onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick foil so it can cool.
  2. Next, add the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice, the olive oil, and the vinegar to a microwaveable glass measuring cup; whisk until smooth. Add the dried cherries and microwave the mixture for 90 seconds to two minutes. Let the liquid and cherries stand for 5 minutes so the cherries can plump up. Drain the liquid from the cherries, reserving it in another cup.
  3. Once the couscous is at room temperature (it'll only take a few minutes), transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Whisk the leftover liquid from the cherry mixture until smooth, then stir it into the couscous.
  4. Toss the couscous with the arugula, almonds, and onion powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add in the cheese and serve.

The combination of flavors in this dish is enticing, and they work together surprisingly well. I was worried it might be too sweet because of the orange juice or that the arugula might be too strong, but everything fused in the perfect proportions. It's really a brilliant recipe, and it's definitely not something you'll see in many cookbooks or restaurants. And the fact that it's easy and relatively fast makes it even more tempting to try out!

P.S. I'm super proud of that photo.