israeli couscous with pancetta, spinach & golden raisins

I ate this meal three nights ago, and I’m still salivating at these pictures. This couscous recipe is one of the most flavorful, colorful and interesting dishes that I have had in a long time. Excitement and anticipation are key ingredients in most aspects of life – and this recipe has both.

The couscous is studded with golden raisins that are re-hydrated, making them plump and flavorful. Their tangy sweetness adds serious depth to the dish’s flavor. I found myself hoping that I would get a raisin in each bite.

To balance the sweet, soft raisins I added pan-fried pancetta for a salty and savory crunch. Pancetta is very similar to bacon, and if you cook with bacon, you know that bacon makes everything better – this was no exception.

Israeli couscous has a very mild flavor on it’s own, and has to be cooked al dente so that it has some bite to it. It’s easy to over-cook, which would leave you with pillowy flavorless grains of pasta … not so desirable. This recipe calls for a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, fresh thyme and chili powder. This powerful combination added tart and spice to the already complex flavor. This dressing was so good that the next time I make this, I may double the dressing, and turn it into a reduction – rockin’ good.

After everything finishes cooking, you add fresh spinach while it’s hot, making the greens wilt and almost melt into the couscous. This dish really has it all. For food superlatives, I would absolutely give it “most likely to succeed.”

Israeli Couscous with Spinach, Pancetta and Golden Raisins

Adapted from a recipe in The Boston Globe (Oct, 2010)

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 lb. pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 3 tbs lemon juice
  • 4 tsp fresh thyme, diced
  • 1 tsp chili powder

Place golden raisins in small bowl and cover with hot water – set aside. Fill a large pot of water, and place on high heat. Allow this water to come to a boil while you are working on the dressing. When the water comes to a boil, add the couscous (at any time) and cook for 6 minutes, or until al dente.

Place olive oil in pan, and cook pancetta until crisp, roughly 10-15 minutes on medium-low. Remove pancetta and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour out the oil + drippings, leaving 1-2 tbs in the pan. Add your 8 cloves of sliced garlic to the pan, cook on medium-low until golden brown. Remove from pan – leaving the oil in the pan – and place on paper towel-lined plate.

Add to the oil your thyme and chili pepper. Keeping the heat on medium-low, stir in the spices for roughly one minute. This will allow the oil to really soak up and meld these flavors together. Turn off the heat, add your lemon juice, and stir together – this is your dressing, which you will add to the couscous – set aside.

Drain your couscous and add the dressing, tossing lightly. Drain your raisins – they should be plump and soft by now – and add them to the couscous. Add the pancetta, and you may add as much of the garlic as your would like. Add the spinach, and toss the entire mix together. Cover the couscous so that you keep in the heat, which will allow the spinach to wilt. After about 5-10 minutes the dish is ready to serve.

Enjoy!

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