Saturday 10 December 2016

Eastern promise: Middle Eastern cuisine

Couscous and bulgar are perfect fare for a summer evening, says Brenda Costigan, as these stars of Middle Eastern cuisine are super quick to prepare and taste utterly delicious

Published 15/05/2011 | 10:34

Couscous with Dublin Bay prawns and leeks
Couscous with Dublin Bay prawns and leeks

As we eagerly hope for a long hot summer, this might be a good time to introduce some quick-cooking grain recipes into our summer repertoire. I'm a great fan of the spud, but couscous and bulgar are super ingredients to have in your cupboard.

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They're delicious, require little or no cooking, and make a great substitute for the potato as well as being the stars of many nice recipes, such as those here.

Though couscous is considered a grain, technically it is more closely related to pasta made from semolina. The fine grains of semolina are dampened and then rolled in flour. The couscous available in this country is pre-cooked, and merely needs to be moistened or rehydrated. Water can be used, but, obviously, stock will add greater flavour. Apple juice is also good, especially when making a couscous with fruit salad.

COUSCOUS WITH DUBLIN BAY PRAWNS AND LEEKS

(Pictured)

The whole prawns are not essential, but many enjoy breaking open the shells and removing the succulent flesh. Serves 2.

You will need:

175g (6oz) couscous

200ml (7fl oz) fish or vegetable stock or water, hot

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

15g (1/2oz) butter (optional)

1 leek, well washed and thinly sliced

2-3 tablespoons water

4 whole Dublin Bay prawns, raw or cooked

8-12 shelled prawns, raw or cooked

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Put the couscous into a bowl and cover with the hot water or hot fish stock or vegetable stock, whichever you are using. Allow the couscous to stand for about 20-30 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grains have swelled. Stir it with a fork or use your fingertips to break up any clumps. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the olive oil and the butter, if you are using it, in a pan, and add the thinly sliced leek along with about 2-3 tablespoons of water. Cover with a lid and simmer gently to soften the sliced leek. Remove the lid and allow the water to evaporate off the pan. Do not allow the leeks to brown. If you're using raw whole prawns, add them to the pan at this point and cook for about 3-4 minutes, then add in the raw shelled prawns and toss over the heat for a further 3-4 minutes. Lift out the whole prawns and keep to one side. Add the couscous to the pan and quickly stir it through the contents. If you are using cooked whole and shelled prawns, add them in at this stage to heat them up. Add the fresh lemon juice to taste.

Serve the couscous on two hot plates, and place the whole prawns on top.

MARINATED CHICKEN SKEWERS WITH COUSCOUS AND HERBS

Recently, when cooking some southern fried chicken, which is marinated in buttermilk, coated in flour and then fried, I realised that buttermilk makes an excellent marinade for chicken -- even without the final coating of flour. A recipe in Delia Smith's How to Cook features chicken in a buttermilk marinade, threaded on skewers, grilled, and then served on a bed of couscous with herbs. Serves 2.

For the marinade, you will need:

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 teaspoon fresh root ginger, grated

1 medium green or red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tablespoon coriander, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

175ml (6fl oz) buttermilk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the skewers, you will need:

2 x 175g (6oz) boneless chicken breasts, skin removed

2-3 teaspoons oil

1/2 red onion, cut in 4 quarters, separated in 8 layers

1/2 yellow or red pepper, deseeded and cut in 8

4 fresh bay leaves, cut in half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 metal skewers (or wooden skewers well soaked in water)

1 lime, cut in wedges, to serve

Make the marinade by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.

Then, cut each of the chicken breasts into five chunks and put them into the marinade. Cover the bowl and leave it in a cool place for two hours, or overnight, if you prefer.

Line the grill pan with tin foil and brush it with oil.

Using a perforated spoon, lift the chicken pieces out of the marinade, allowing the excess marinade to drip off. Thread the chicken pieces onto two skewers, separating each chicken piece with a piece of the red onion, a piece of the yellow or red pepper, whichever you are using, and a half bay leaf. Brush the surface of the chicken and vegetable pieces lightly with oil, and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lay the skewers on the hot, tin foil-lined grill tray. Cook the skewers on all sides until the chicken pieces are cooked through, turning every 5-10 minutes to ensure an even browning. This will take about 20 minutes.

If you like, you can cook the marinade and serve it on the side as a sauce. Serve the cooked chicken skewers on a bed of couscous with herbs (see below) along with the wedges of lime.

COUSCOUS WITH HERBS

This makes a very tasty couscous salad. The herbs can be varied according to their availability and your own tastes. Serves 2.

You will need:

150g (5oz) couscous

250ml (9fl oz) hot stock, chicken or vegetable

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 spring onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander or flat parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil or fresh mint leaves, chopped

1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Put the couscous into a bowl and add the hot chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you are using. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the couscous to stand for about 20-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grains have swelled. Stir it with a fork or use your fingertips to break up any clumps.

Stir in the finely chopped spring onions, the fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley, whichever you are using and the chopped fresh basil or mint leaves, whichever you are using. Mix in the fresh lime juice and serve as required.

COUSCOUS WITH FRUIT AND FETA

The fruit and the feta are very tasty together. No doubt you will be keen to try different combinations. Serves 3-4.

You will need:

225g (8oz) couscous

600ml (1pt) hot water or apple juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

150g (5oz) seedless grapes, black or green or a mixture of both (cut in half if large)

1-2 oranges, cut out into segments (see note)

1-2 eating apples, preferably red, diced

2 sticks celery, thinly sliced

175-200g (6-8 oz) feta, drained and broken into small chunks

40g (1 1/2oz) salted peanuts (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Note:

For the tastiest effect, peel the oranges with a sharp knife and remove all the pith. Cut in between the membranes and push out the fleshy segments. Work over a bowl to catch any escaping juices. Discard the remaining membranes.

For the dressing, you will need:

Juice 1/2 orange

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the couscous into a bowl and add the water or apple juice, whichever you are using, stirring well. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and leave to stand for about 20-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grains have swelled.

Add the sunflower oil, and rub it in with your fingers or mix it in with a fork to loosen the grains and break up lumps.

When the couscous has cooled, mix in the ground coriander, the seedless black grapes and/or green grapes, the orange segments, the diced eating apples, the thinly sliced celery, the feta chunks, the salted peanuts, if you are using them, and the chopped fresh parsley.

To make the dressing, whisk together the orange and lemon juice, the sunflower oil, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Before serving the couscous, add in as much of the dressing as you like.

Variation:

Use 3-4 ripe peaches, chopped -- leave skins on if you like -- instead of the oranges and apples. Another nice twist is to use toasted flaked almonds instead of the salted peanuts.

TABbOULEH

Bulgar, sometimes called bulghur or burghul, consists of grains of wheat that have been boiled and cracked. You can use cold water or stock to rehydrate it, but the steeping time will be at least doubled. Drain off any extra liquid and dry the grains on a paper kitchen towel. Bulgar has a gentle nutty flavour. Tabbouleh is a classic Middle Eastern salad, made with fresh parsley and mint. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

175-225g (6-8oz) bulgar

Boiling water or chicken stock to cover

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4-6 spring onions, finely chopped

25-40g (1-1 1/2oz) fresh parsley, finely chopped

3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 smallish green pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

2-3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

1/4 cucumber, diced

2 tablespoons black pitted olives, optional

Put the bulgar in a bowl and cover it with the boiling water or chicken stock, whichever you are using. Leave to stand for about 20 minutes until the grains are swollen. Drain off any excess water. Put the bulgar into a large salad bowl and add the olive oil and the lemon juice. Season to taste with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in the finely chopped spring onions, fresh parsley and the chopped fresh mint leaves. Mix well, and then add the finely chopped green pepper, the skinned, chopped tomatoes, the diced cucumber and the pitted black olives, if you're using them. Mix everything together. Serve.

Variation:

Add a carton of cottage cheese to the finished tabbouleh and serve as a main dish, with pitta bread.

L

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