Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Israeli cous cous and preserved lemon salad

Salad of Israeli cous cous, preserved lemons, chicken, grape tomatoes, and spring onions

Let's start with what is Israeli cous cous. If you've ever been to Sahadi's on Atlantic Street in Brooklyn Heights you may have seen cous cous with grains of many different sizes. Israeli is probably the most common of the larger-grained varieties. When cooked, the grains are about 1/4 inch in diameter. This kind of cous cous is a little tricky to find -- the coop doesn't have it, and neither do Blue Apron nor Union Market. I found it at a shop on 7th Avenue (Park Slope) that used to be called International Taste. I forget what it's called now, but it's still Lebanese owned and stocked with all sorts of nuts, grains, dried fruits, cured meats, cheese, and homemade specialties. While I was there I bought a gem of a cookie with pistachio filling.

They also have preserved lemons (as does Blue Apron). These are lemons usually pickled with some herbs and spices, similar to Indian pickled limes. I've pickled my own lemons by quartering lemons up to the peel, stuffing with salt, cramming several into a jar, and keeping the lemons pressed for about a month in the refrigerator before sealing (at which point they can be kept without refrigeration until opening). I prefer my homemade preserved lemons because of the purer lemon taste. Unlike with fresh lemons, you discard the fruit and use the peel, which will have softened. The peel takes on a concentrated lemony taste and makes a pungent condiment.

I used to make this salad all the time, but it had been at least a year or so since I'd last made it. The cous cous requires a bit more heat and time to cook than regular cous cous (and yes, I do it the lame American way). After poaching four chicken thighs in salt and bay leaves I poured the hot chicken broth over a metal bowl of cous cous so it reached about 1/2 inch above the grains. I think I must have used about 3 cups of dry cous cous. Then I covered the bowl with a lid and left it for a few hours while the chicken cooled in the refrigerator. Then I fluffed the cooked cous cous with a fork. I shredded the chicken and julienne-cut the peels of about five preserved lemons. I added grape tomatoes (cut in half) and one diced spring onion. Then I poured in olive oil and lemon juice.

I forgot to add capers, and I think diced red onion would have been better, given the salad a bit more bite and texture. Otherwise I was happy with how it came out. I love returning to a dish I haven't made for a long time. There's the surprise of something you haven't tasted in a long while, along with the familiarity. Kind of like reuniting with an old friend you haven't seen for a long time and realizing you both still have a lot to talk about.

I actually made this salad on Saturday night. Thursday night we went to an opening at Lane's gallery followed by a reception, and Friday night we were guests of Monroe's at a Celebrate Brooklyn dinner. Tonight Lane made his hamburgers even though we just had them Wednesday night. There's a Kundera line he likes to quote, "happiness is the longing for repetition."

This weekend our friend Dave moved from DC to New York! This is actually a preliminary move. He's apartment sitting for mutual friends while he looks for a place of his own and a job. Then he's off to St. Petersburg for a couple weeks before returning, hopefully to his new job and home here.

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