Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad

Also known as my “Peace in the Middle East Salad” or my “Make Love Not War Salad”. When Israel and Iran work together, beautiful things can happen. If only politics could be this easy!  In my modern interpretation of a traditional Shirazi Salad, toasty Israeli couscous meets fresh cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, mint and lime. The result is a delicious, refreshing and hearty middle eastern salad.

I have recently become obsessed with Israeli couscous. It is so versatile and is delicious in warm pilafs and cold salads and is a good substitute for rice, pasta or quinoa. Israeli couscous, also known as Ptitim, is a toasted wheat “pasta” that is shaped into little pearls. It is a very popular dish among children in Israel and is available in whole wheat and spelt for the health conscious. I like preparing it for my daughter with some butter, parmesan and lemon.

This salad is one of my favourite ways to serve Israeli couscous. It is a delicious accompaniment to a variety of grilled meat and fish dishes. I especially love it with Jujeh Kabab!

Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad
(Serves 4-6)

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 cups water
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, diced (1/2 inch pieces)
1 cup diced seedless cucumber (1/2 inch pieces)
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tsp  salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a small pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and toast for 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 12 minutes (water should be evaporated and the couscous tender).

Put into a large bowl and add 1/8 cup olive oil. Let cool. When it is cool, fluff the couscous up with a spoon. Sometimes the pearls stick together you might need to spend a few minutes separating them with the back of a wooden spoon.

Add the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, mint, lime juice, salt, pepper and remainder of the olive oil. Stir to combine.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and lime juice if necessary. Enjoy!

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Khorest-e Loobia (Persian Beef and Green Bean Stew)

Over a decade ago I was taking the train from Montreal to Toronto to return home for Thanksgiving from University. I sat with my younger brother and his new friend, who was also Persian. It was exciting to meet someone Persian as I didn’t have any Iranian friends at school. We spent what seemed like the entire four hour train ride talking about, what else: food. We were comparing our favourite Persian dishes and what food we missed most from home. He told me that his absolute favourite was Khorest-e Loobia. My brother and I were perplexed…….we had never heard of it.  My mother made Loobia Polo (rice with beef and green beans) but never Khorest-e Loobia. Our fellow traveller was outraged and insisted that we had to try it.

I asked my mom and she said it wasn’t a dish she grew up with, so I combed through recipe books until I found one for this delicious stew. Over the years I have made this dish many times and over time I have adapted and changed the recipe to suit my own palate. It’s exciting to make my family a Persian dish that my mother did not cook.

If you like Loobia Polo you will love Khorest-e Loobia – a luscious stew of braised beef and tender green beans in a rich aromatic tomato sauce. I add mushrooms to my stew because my mother adds it to her Loobia Polo and I love the combination of the beef and green beans with the mushrooms, but you may omit them if you wish.

Khorest-e Loobia
(Serves 4)

3 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces*
1/2 lb mushrooms, halved and then sliced
4 heaping tbsp tomato paste (one small can)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (or bottled Persian lime juice)
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
salt and pepper

In a large pot (or Dutch Oven), heat canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the stewing beef. Saute the beef for five minutes until browned.

Add the green beans and mushrooms. Fry for one minute. Add the tomato paste and fry for two minutes.

Add the chicken broth, cinnamon, cumin, lime juice, saffron water, 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 1 tbsp salt. Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium low heat.

Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

* I prefer using fresh green beans but you may also use frozen.