Pilaf is a simple and delicious grain dish, traditionally composed of lightly toasted rice grains, which are simmered in an aromatic spice-infused stock. And while rice is frequently used in pilaf, it isn't mandatory. Other grains, such as farro and freekah, can be used, as well as wheat ingredients, including orzo, bulgur and couscous. This recipe is for pearl couscous pilaf. Pearl couscous is also known as Israeli couscous (ptitim) and Italian couscous (fregola sarda). It differs from finely grained North African couscous, which is coarse with air-dried flecks of durum wheat semolina that are typically steamed and served with stews.
Pearl couscous is also made from wheat flour and semolina, but it's rolled into tiny pearl-shaped pieces of pasta and then toasted until hardened. This process produces a nutty flavor, chewy bite and slippery texture, which is incredibly satisfying to eat. Not only that, when you cook pearl couscous, the extra step of toasting the hardened pearls again before simmering in stock burnishes the couscous with a golden color and a nutty toasted flavor.
This recipe method layers in the flavors and produces an understated yet glorious side dish. The grains simmer in chicken stock infused with butter and spices, rippling with golden saffron. Toasted pine nuts, currants and fresh herbs complete the dish. It's simple and sumptuous and a wonderful accompaniment to meat, fish and vegetables.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of "Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture" (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.
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