Meatless Monday: Israeli Couscous with Summer Veggies & Watercress

I love Mediterranean cuisine.  That is why last Thursday I headed to my newest and most favorite lunch spot in Youngstown, Ghossains.  Our life lately feels like the perfect storm. Lots of things brewing and blowing around, with clear skies and sun rays beaming across the horizan.  So many things are going on with a sudden fast and furious nature, it has been crazy.  I am not complaining for I know I am not alone in this fact. It seems like life is speeding forward for everyone these days. Constant change is everywhere and it is happening more frequently.  Life is wild at times, but it is also wonderful.  That is why it is so important to take care of oneself.  Take time to smell the roses, take a breather, get a massage or facial, and slow down when needed.  We all deserve some rest.  Even if it is just to catch our breath for a little bit while having a delicious lunch.

Thursday afternoon, after sitting for the morning with my grandpa who was in CCU, my brother and I headed over to meet his fiancee to taste and choose wedding cupcakes.  That is just a little hint as to some of life’s worries and wonders we have been simultaneously going through.  After the tasting we said our goodbyes as she headed off with her mom for more wedding preparations.  My brother and I decided to get some much needed sustenance before heading back to the hospital.  It was already 3 pm and neither of us had eaten anything for lunch (other than those cupcakes OMG so good).  I suggested we head up to Ghossains which is in the vicinity of our favorite cupcake spot: Clarencedale Cake.  We left behind those delicious cupcakes for some more gourmet delicacies, this time mediterranean fare.  I mentioned Ghossains once before for another meatless monday recipe, my delicious and surprisingly lower cal version of a three cheese pizza.

Ghossains is more than just a lunch spot, it is a bakery, deli, and gourmet store all wrapped into one.  I had purchased their pitas at a local grocer but a visit to Ghossians bakery is a true delight.  The aromas of all the different fare they offer is intoxicating. Many premade dishes are available to purchase for lunch there or to take home.  They make a variety of quinoa salads, tabbouleh, hummus, baba ghanoush, rice bowls, wraps, sandwiches, flatbreads and hand pies.  They also carry a wide array of usual and unusual ingredients for purchase as well.  A plethora of spices, tahini, grains, pitas, chickpeas, lentils, and coffee are just a sampling of a few things the store has to offer. My brother and I both ordered the syrian rice bowls and while the beautiful girl behind the counter made our bowls, we had a look around the store.  It is a great idea to peruse the store while waiting, inspiration may just strike for a future meal.  This is exactly what happened to me.  I found some wonderful Israeli couscous, which looked intriguing.  It is also referred to as pearl couscous.  It intrigued me because earlier this year I came in contact with a sort of pasta which it resembled, but at much less the cost.  I wasn’t exactly sure how I would use it but I added it to my bag.  Our rice bowls where delicious.  My brother was really happy with his, in fact he took a picture of it and texted it to his fiancee, who had lunch envy.  She too is a foodie like us and enjoys a variety of cuisines.

After lunch and a few errands we headed back to the hospital.  My brother stayed on for his shift and I left for home.  Before my final stop of home sweet home, I headed to Rulli Bros. It is a wonderful Italian grocer in the Youngstown area and where I first purchased Ghossain’s pitas.  I love, love, love Rulli Bros as well. Whenever I am in the Y-town area I have to make a pit stop here. They have such a great selection of fresh local produce, olives, fresh herbs, and italian specialties at prices that cannot be beat.  For my couscous I wanted to make something inspired by the Mediterranean rice bowl that I had enjoyed.  I wanted to include a lot of veggies with wonderful spices and flavors.  I found gorgeous yellow squash and zucchini. Sun-dried tomatoes are always something I pick up at Rulli Bros.  They are always so fresh and tender, soft yet chewy with great tomato flavor.  The watercress called out to me.  It would add greenery and a sharp peppery taste to the dish.  I picked up a giant jar of capers here as well for a steal compared with what my neighborhood store sells them for.  They would add a salty bite to my dish.  I also purchased a tube of tomato paste, and some imported olive oil from Lebanon.  With these last two ingredients mentioned,  I decided to use them when making up my dressing, along with some smoked sweet paprika which is a staple in our house.
The dish turned out fabulous.  It was smokey, sweet, garlicky, spicy, and full of healthy vegetables.  It can stand alone for a quick lunch or light dinner.  Feta makes a great addition for all non-vegans, and for carnivores I am sure it would be a great compliment to grilled chicken or a nice tuna steak.  Serve it with a nice slice of crusty bread and a side salad to completed it.  However, both Eric and I loved it as is.   He even thanked God for my skills as a cook that night when he prayed before we enjoyed our dinner.  That is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.  I too am thankful for the inspiration for this meal I created.  Thank you to Ghossains and Rulli Bros! Pay them both a visit if ever in the Y-town/Broadman area.

Israeli Couscous with Summer Veggies & Watercress
Recipe by:
  • 1½ cup Israeli couscous
  • 1½ cup water
  • 1 summer squash cubed
  • 2 small zucchini cubed
  • 1 large garlic bulb separated into cloves and peeled
  • ½-1 cup julianne sun dried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup capers
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp herb vinegar
  • 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 bunch watercress
  • additional olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 400º
  2. Bring 1½ cup water to boil in medium sized saucepan.
  3. Add 1½ cup couscous to boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes covered with lid. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes with lid intact.
  4. Place couscous in mixing bowl and fluff with fork. Set aside.
  5. When oven is preheated to 400º, place prepared summer squash and zucchini on large jelly roll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Roast in oven for 15 minutes.
  6. After veggies have roasted for 15 minutes, add garlic cloves to vegetables, tossing to coat with juices and roast for 10 more minutes.
  7. Remove roasted vegetables and allow to cool.
  8. To couscous in mixing bowl add sun-dried tomatoes, capers, roasted vegetables. Toss to combine.
  9. Make dressing mixing ⅓ cup olive oil, 2 tbsp herb vinegar, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour over couscous, stirring to combine.
  10. Prepare watercress removing any thick stalks, wash thoroughly and spin dry. Tear apart with hands. 1 small bunch should yield about 1-1½ cup of greens. Add to salad once completely cooled. Serve. This dish may be made ahead and served cold as well.
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