Israeli couscous, also known as ptitim, from the Hebrew word for flakes, is pasta that is shaped like small balls or in the shape of rice and toasted. It is also sold under the name “pearl couscous.” If you have ever seen this grain in the market and wondered how you would prepare it, it is actually very simple. But first, a bit of history:
Israeli couscous was invented during a 1953 period of austerity in Israel. This period lasted from 1949 until 1959 and was a result of the lack of food and currency during the emergence of the state of Israel. In order to make sure that everyone could be fed, rationing was put into place. The first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, requested that one of the founders of Osem Food come up with a wheat-based alternative for rice. Wheat was abundantly available, yet rice was not. Osem Food rose to the challenge and created Israeli couscous, which was an instant success.
Israeli couscous is made by forcing wheat dough through a mold. It is then cut and toasted. Because it originated as a means to feed a starving Israel, it was originally mass produced and machine made. Even today, it is very rarely made by hand. Because of its low cost and easy preparation, the store-bought variety is significantly more popular. It is especially popular among children. This popularity with youth has led to it being produced in fun shapes like stars, hearts, and rings. It is now even available in either spelt or whole wheat flour, for those who are watching their health.
Variety in Preparation
Israeli couscous can be served either hot or cold, and it holds up well to being reheated. Most frequently, it is made with sautéed onions and garlic, in addition to any desired meat, chicken, sausage, or vegetables. The grains can also be fried, baked, used in stuffing, made into a risotto, or served in a pie. Essentially, any dish where pasta or rice might fit, so would Israeli couscous.
Method of Preparation
Israeli couscous is very simple to prepare. To make it plain, perhaps as a base for another dish, simmer 1.25 cups of either water or vegetable broth with 1 cup of dry couscous. Allow it to simmer for about ten minutes. When it is done, it should fluff up slightly, and will feel “al dente” in your mouth.
Cold Tomato and Cucumber Salad
The best part about Israeli couscous is its versatility. One simple, amazing dish that can be made with prepared and chilled Israeli couscous is tomato and cucumber salad. In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and ¼ of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. In a separate bowl, combine 1 large tomato that you have chopped into a small dice, 1 cucumber diced similarly, 1 diced green bell pepper, 2 chopped green onions, and 1.5 cups of prepared Israeli couscous. Top with the dressing and ¼ of a cup of freshly chopped parsley and toss. Season as desired with salt and pepper. This recipe is excellent for preparing in large batches ahead of time and actually tastes better one the second and third days.
Caprese Couscous Salad
For this fun twist on Caprese salad, start by dicing 2 cups of tomatoes, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 tablespoon of basil. Mince 1 small shallot and 1 clove of garlic. Put the garlic and shallot in a large bowl along with 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Mix this thoroughly to create a dressing. Add the chopped tomatoes, mozzarella, and 2 cups of prepared Israeli couscous to the dressing mixture and toss to mix. Top with the fresh chopped basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Israeli couscous is similar to Kabyle berkoukes and Sardinian fregola. The major difference is that these products are rolled and coated, while Israeli couscous is not. It is also similar to maftoul, a dish served in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Syria, but the same difference exists: these are coated. Israeli couscous is also similar in shape to Italian grains pastas in the pastina family, like orzo, acini di pepe, and stellini. The major difference is that Israeli couscous is made with pre-toasted grains, which leads to a nutty flavor and chewier texture.
Overall, Israeli couscous is a delicious dish that you will surely come to love once you try it.