Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moghrabieh (Lebanese Couscous) Pilaf with Summer Squash, Sunchokes, Peas, Pistachios, Cherries, and Chermoula

Don’t let the long title fool you – although it sounds complicated, there’s nothing difficult or fussy about putting together this dish. 

Inspired by the pilafs my mom often made when we had guests over when I was younger, I took the idea of cooking the rice – or in this case, moghrabieh, aka Lebanese couscous (which I’ll get to in a second) – with a fragrant mixture of fennel, mint, toasted nuts, garlic, and bay leaves. But rather than use rice, I opted for a different grain to lend this dish a more Middle Eastern feel.

I was searching for Israeli couscous at Sahadi’s when I stumbled upon a bag of moghrabieh. I wasn’t familiar with this product, but it looked exactly like what I wanted, so I picked it up and checked out. Just to be sure, though, I asked the owner of the store if this was the same as Israeli couscous. “No,” Mr. Sahadi replied, “this is Lebanese couscous.” Well then. I had no idea there was such a thing, but apparently there is. It tastes an awful lot like Israeli couscous, although we thought that the texture was a little chewier and firmer.

To accompany the spiced couscous, I grilled some summer squash that I first marinated in harissa, thinly sliced some sunchokes and let them marinate in a bath of lemon juice and salt, and chopped up some toasted pistachios and cherries – the latter two of which were also included as an homage to the almonds and golden raisins my mom includes in her pilafs.

Not satisfied to leave well enough alone, the whole thing gets topped off with chermoula, a sauce that’s new to me but will not remain a stranger. Its base of cilantro is accented with coriander, saffron, and smoked paprika, making for an earthy, intriguing sauce that leaves you guessing what exactly is in it and also wanting more. I based my recipe off the one from the brilliant Michael Natkin, although I significantly cut back on the amount of smoked paprika, as I’m not the biggest fan of it but still wanted a bit of that smoky flavour. And to cool things off, a dollop of Greek yogurt rounds out the plate.

I was actually surprised at how good this dish came out – I knew the flavors and textures would work well together, but the chermoula really tied it all together and made this much more special than a typical pilaf. Although my mom’s will always hold a special place in my heart and palate.


Mograbieh (Lebanese Couscous) Pilaf with Harissa Grilled Squash, 
   Pickled Sunchokes, Pistachios, Cherries, and Chermoula 
serves 8
vegan if not using yogurt

For the moghrabieh pilaf2 garlic cloves
2 tbls pistachios
1 tbls mint
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbls olive oil
2 bay leaves
3 cups mograbieh (Lebanese couscous - if unavailable, use Israeli couscous)
3 cups water

For the chermoula1 bunch cilantro
1 handful parsley
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt

4 ounces sunchokes
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound summer squash, washed very well
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon harissa
1/4 teaspoon salt

16 cherries

1 cup fresh shelled peas

1/2 cup toasted pistachios

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (omit for a vegan version)


Add the garlic, pistachios, mint, fennel seeds, and salt to a mini chopper and pulse until a smooth paste is formed. Or you can do what I did, which was to smash it all up with a mortar and pestle.

Heat the oil in a 4 quart saucepan set over medium heat. Add the spice paste and the bay leaves and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the moghrabieh and toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water, raise the heat to high, and cover the pot. When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Keep covered.

While the moghrabieh is cooking, make the chermoula. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth paste is formed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to thinly slice the sunchokes – about 1/16” thick. Transfer the sunchoke slices to a non-reactive bowl and toss with the lemon juice and salt. Let the sunchokes marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Slice the summer squash into ½” thick rounds and transfer to a large bowl. Add the oil, harissa, and salt, and toss well to combine. Transfer the squash to a grill pan and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. (Alternately, you can roast them on a sheet pan in a 375 F oven until they are tender and charred in spots, about 15 minutes.)

To cook the peas, bring a small saucepan full of salted water to a boil and add the peas. Cook until the peas float to the top, about 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl full of ice water. Let the peas sit in the ice water for a few minutes, then transfer them to a clean bowl.

Coarsely chop the pistachios and set aside.

Stem and pit the cherries and chop them into quarters.

To serve

Mix the peas with the moghrabieh pilaf. Place a generous ½ cup on each of 8 plates. Scatter some of the grilled squash, pickled sunchokes, pistachios, and cherries on each plate. Top each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chermoula and a tablespoon of Greek yogurt.

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