Lynda Balslev: A lighter side of couscous |

Lynda Balslev: A lighter side of couscous


Couscous is an excellent side dish or vegetarian option that is perfect for outdoor dining. It can be served warm or cold, has a satisfying kick of spice, and is healthy to boot. Just a plate of couscous, you think? Well, not quite. Unlike Middle Eastern couscous, which is made with tiny grains of semolina wheat, this couscous is a grain-free alternative, and therefore gluten-free.

The star of the show is cauliflower. Its versatility, sturdy texture and nutty, buttery flavor seamlessly transform otherwise wheat-y and starchy preparations. Cauliflower is a healthy, tasty stand-in for wheat in flour mixes for pizza crust, crackers, breads and pasta. When finely chopped, it’s a great substitute for rice, and when pureed, cauliflower is a light and fluffy alternative to mashed potatoes. While the end results have a notable nutty and vegetal quality, cauliflower, with all of its iterations, is light, gluten-free and delicious.

In this couscous recipe, cauliflower florets are blitzed into tiny pieces, then sauteed in a pan until crisp-tender. Next, proceed as you would with a traditional couscous dish, tumbling it with bunches of chopped green herbs, vegetables and spices. The extra bonus is that, unlike wheat couscous, which requires the absorption of a large amount of water and olive oil to soften, cauliflower couscous needs only a splash or two of oil in which to saute. So, have at it with no regrets, and dig in with a big spoon.

Lemony Cauliflower Couscous

Active time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

1 medium head cauliflower, cored, leaves discarded, florets coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 red jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded, finely diced

1 poblano pepper, seeded, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup (packed) chopped Italian parsley leaves

1/2 cup (packed) chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh mint leaves

Place the cauliflower in a food processor and process until very finely chopped, similar in size to couscous grains or fine rice.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and saute until the grains begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, cayenne and black pepper and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the cauliflower is crisp-tender (or to your desired consistency), about 2 minutes more.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. If too dry, add more lemon juice or oil to moisten. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area

Couscous is an excellent side dish or vegetarian option that is perfect for outdoor dining. It can be served warm or cold, has a satisfying kick of spice, and is healthy to boot.
Photo by Lynda Balslev

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