This is a Variation on a Root Formula, a simplified recipe that shows which ingredients
are core and which can be changed to create different flavor combinations or use what you
have on hand. See our other variations at the bottom of the Root Formula page.
When Andy and I visited Croatia in 2015, every restaurant had a menu designed to impress international tourists – rich cream sauces, squid ink pastas, truffle oil. After a few days of that, our stomachs longed for simple food. One afternoon while out to lunch we saw the kitchen and wait staff enjoying a tomato-based stew with large hunks of bread. We said to our waiter, “What’s that? We want that!” He replied, “Oh, that’s just staff food, it’s not on the menu.” This easy pearl couscous dish reminds me of that meal, made from inexpensive and easily accessible ingredients, but you can’t get enough of it. Your body craves it – especially after the indulgences of a weekend, a holiday, or vacation. It doesn’t look like much, but when these ingredients meld and marry it is umami central.
We have been making some version of this dish for years, but when we decided to add it to the Capsule Kitchen we tested it several times to make sure we had the right root formula. While most recipes we tire of, this we could eat forever, especially with a rotating cast of vegetables. A note for people with little ones: kids love this “tiny pasta” dish and eat it without fuss.
The Pearl Couscous & Vegetable Pot is perfect for the night when you want something nourishing and comforting that will stick to your ribs, but you need it to be easy and fast with little prep. The ingredients are so simple, we always have them on hand. And because this is a formula, you can really toss just about any vegetable into it and you’ve got a complete meal in a bowl.
What vegetables to use and when?
When it’s cold, we reach for vegetables like butternut squash, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. When the mercury rises, we reach for things like asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and peas. Here’s our technique for steam sautéing all vegetables. We also really love the couscous vegetable pot with sautéed mushrooms. And of course, stir in whatever greens you like! This is a recipe you can really make your own.
Frozen vegetables – toss ‘em right in!
A note on cheese in pearl couscous
Because this dish is so simple, the cheese element is important. There are some dishes where I happily swap parmesan cheese for a vegan alternative, but we do use real parmesan cheese here. Feel free to use a plant-based parmesan cheese or even nutritional yeast. You can leave the cheese out altogether, it will still taste good, but it will be missing a little je ne sais quoi.
Stir in some pesto!
If you’re not using cheese or if you want a little extra flavor, stir in a tablespoon of our Lemon Pesto, Kale-Walnut Pesto or any pesto you have made or bought.
Pearl Couscous Pot with Asparagus and Peas
- 1 large each: onion, carrot, and celery stalk, cut into small dice
- 1 pound 1/2 pound each: prepared asparagus* and frozen green peas
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon dried taragon leaves
- 2 cups Pearl (Israeli) couscous
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 4 cups packed fresh spinach
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling (optional)
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over low heat in a soup kettle. Prepare onions, carrots, celery, and asparagus and measure peas.
- When ready to sauté, increase heat to medium-high and add onion, carrots, and celery; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tarragon and then couscous, followed by broth; cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer until most of the liquid has absorbed but dish is still moist, about 10 minutes.
- While couscous cooks, place asparagus in a (12-inch) skillet with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/4 cup of water, and a sprinkling a salt and pepper. Cover skillet, turn burner to high, and heat until vegetables start to steam. With skillet still covered, cook until all of the liquid has evaporated and vegetables start to sauté, about 5 minutes. Remove lid, add peas, and continue to cook until peas thaw, a few minutes longer.
- Stir in vegetables, spinach, and optional cheese into the couscous and cook to wilt spinach and blend flavors, a couple of minutes longer. Adjust seasonings, including salt and pepper to taste. Serve with an optional sprinkling of cheese.