Cous cous

We have a Wholefoods in Stoke Newington. Nice, but a little like visiting a museum in that it is full of lovely things, but the stuff on display is really beyond my price range. Actually, that is a bit of an exaggeration. While some of the lines there have eye-watering prices, particularly given that I can buy exactly the same thing at the excellent 24 hour independent grocery along the street (really, they have everything), Wholefoods does carry some items that I just can’t find elsewhere, and you do also have the occasional pleasure of finding things that you’ve never seen before.

I was recently on the lookout for an alternative to pasta (being fed up with rice and polenta), and came across a type of cous cous called maftoul. I am familiar with the very fine variety, but this is larger – the grains are a 2-3mm across. I’ve seen something similar before, but tended to be a luminous yellow colour. This was completely different – light brown and irregular looking. However, the packet looked attractive (see the post on marqt – if it looks stylish, I’m usually hooked), and I though it was worth trying.

So I cooked it, tried it and…this stuff is excellent. The grains stay separate, and become soft but retain a bit of “chewiness” to them, which certainly makes it more interesting to eat. The flavour is also quite unlike normal cous cous. There is a distinct woody/smokey character to it which I found worked really well in this salad. The cous cous become one of the flavours in the dish, rather than just serving to bulk it out. I used it as part of a light salad with tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, halloumi and mint, and added a light lemon/oil dressing to provide a little kick and bring everything together.

For the cous cous:

• 75g cous cous
• 100g (1/2 packet) halloumi cheese, thinly sliced
• 1 large tomato
• 1/3 cucumber

• 1 carrot
• 3 sprigs of fresh mint

Start with the cous cous. This can be steamed, but I cooked it in a pan with a little stock. Best to check the directions on whatever you are using.

While the cous cous is cooking, start with the cheese. Fry the halloumi with a little olive oil until golden brown on both sides, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

As the cheese is cooling, chop the tomato into chunks. Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthways, remove the seeds, and chop or slice (whichever you feel like at that moment). Peel the carrot, then use the peeler to make thin strips of carrot. Remove the mint leaves from the sprigs (you around 15-20 leaves in total), and slice very finely. Put the tomato, cucumber, carrot and mint in a salad bowl. Add the halloumi (you can tear into smaller chunks if preferred).

Once the cous cous is ready, allow it to cool (either room temperature or lukewarm). Add to the rest of the salad, add the dressing and toss lightly. Enjoy with a glass of white wine!

For the dressing:

• 1/2 chilli (seeds and veins removed), finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 lemon, juiced

Put everything in a jam jar and shake furiously.

Worth making? Yes. The cous cous itself is a revelation. The meal was inspired by that I had in the fridge and kitchen cupboards, and I was amazed with how well it turned out. This is a good recipe to have in the repertoire, and I am sure lends itself to a bit of improvisation, as long as you keep the flavours fresh and, crucially, make sure that it is served at room temperature or just warm. So take the veggies out of the fridge in good time!

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