Couscous: the food so nice, they named it twice! So I can only imagine how many times over they might have named it had they added a little cocoa powder. For those I almost lost on that cocoa powder suggestion, don’t worry – the cocoa flavor is on the back end , not up-front, in-your-face chocolate like these.
Rather, a bite tastes something like this: the tart-yet-sweetness of cherries, followed by a hint of bright citrus from the orange zest, balanced against the delicate buttery-nutty flavor of pistachios, and finally the subtle yet discernibly nutty chocolateyness of unsweetened cocoa-powder flavoring the couscous.
Beyond the interesting and delicious flavors involved, this dish has an amazing texture – from the chewiness of the cherries to the crunch of pistachios, to the spongy grains of couscous. The deep red of the cherries and the light green of the pistachios also add a pop of color, so the couscous looks – and tastes! – amazing, especially alongside this roasted leg of lamb.
So go a little crazy with me, and add some cocoa powder to that couscous. You’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised by the addition.
Notes on ingredients and substitutions: The cocoa powder would also go well with dried apricots if you don’t have a chance to pick up unsweetened dried cherries at Trader Joe’s or your local farmers market. And if you’re into that chocolate-chili flavor (I am, generally, but not on the particular occasion when I served this dish because it wouldn’t have gone as well with the lamb), add a pinch or two of chili powder – but make sure to taste it after each pinch so you don’t go overboard.
Couscous with Dried Cherries, Pistachios, Orange Zest, and Cocoa Powder
Serves 2, but easily doubled or tripled
2/3 c. dry couscous
1 c. water
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. orange zest
pinch of salt, plus more to taste
1/3 to 1/2 c. pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/4 c. unsweetened dried cherries, chopped
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. mint, minced
1 tsp. honey (optional)
Cook couscous per the instructions on the box/bag you picked up, adding orange zest to the boiling water. (For me, this meant that I brought water, 1 tsp. oil, zest and salt to a slight boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Then, I stirred in the couscous, covered the pot, and removed it from the heat. I let it stand for 5 minutes before removing the cover.)
Fluff lightly with a fork. Stir in chopped pistachios, dried cherries, cocoa powder, mint, and remaining 1 tsp. oil. Add salt to taste. For a sweeter taste, stir in 1 tsp. honey (I didn’t add the honey this time around, but you should taste the couscous and see what your taste buds prefer). You could even add a pinch or two of chili powder to spice it up if you want.
Serve with roasted leg of lamb, or even rack of lamb (easier when you don’t have a table full of people), which can be made using the same marinade (but a vastly shorter cooking time).