Monday, May 5, 2014

Rice Cooker Israeli Couscous with Shallots

Do you have a rice cooker?
I really love mine, and here is why:
1) Versatility
Even if your family doesn't eat a lot of rice, I highly recommend this doodad.  Rice cookers cook steel cut oats and almost any grain you can think of like a dream.  A rice cooker is way more of a kitchen multi-tasker than one might think.  Don't believe me?  Check out this article on 21 Surprising Things You Can Cook in a Rice Cooker and prepare to have your mind blown.

2) Convenience
Here's the thing: cooking most grains requires bringing water to boil, adding the grain, lowering the temperature to a simmer, then turning off the heat and serving the grain almost immediately.  While this is a simple process in theory, who among us hasn't had many an "OH F*^@!!" moment while trying to prep a dinner that includes a grain.  Don't get the heat timing right and the bottom of your pan is burned, along with a layer of rice.  Don't time the finish perfectly with your protein and veggies, and you can easily get overcooked grains, or a gluey, room temperature mess instead of a lovely hot side dish.  So frustrating.  With the rice cooker, grains are cooked to perfection every time, and the "keep warm" setting keeps them piping hot without overcooking them until you are ready to serve, even if that is an hour later than planned.  To me, this is priceless.  

Also, most rice cookers have a timer setting, meaning you can set up your rice cooker with the ingredients for steel cut oats the night before, set the timer for two hours before you wake, and come downstairs to a beautiful breakfast with zero effort the next morning.  Or put everything together for this Israeli couscous dish before heading out for the afternoon, and set the timer to coincide with your planned dinner.  Genius.

3) Ease
Nothing is easier or more foolproof than rice cooker cooking; it is kind of like magic.  Not only is our rice cooker super simple to clean, but it only takes minutes to throw everything into the cooker and press start, and once that is done, you're just not calling for take out, no matter how much your motivation may fade.  Start a batch of rice, and even if you lose the will to do anything else except open a can of beans, provided you have some good condiments and an avocado on hand, and you've got Burrito Bowls.  Stick some quinoa in there, and you're halfway to a trendy hippie salad of nutritional superiority.  Or make this gorgeous, simple Israeli couscous dish, shove your husband out to the grill with some chicken or a piece of fish, throw a salad together, and you've got a downright elegant dinner situation.

Sales pitch= over.
I just love this thing.
And our $80 model is over ten years old and still works like a charm, but there are also less expensive versions out there, and this doesn't have to be a pricey item.  
Okay, now the sales pitch is really over.

Israeli couscous is one of my favorite grains.  Comfortingly smooth, light and versatile, I'd swap it out for rice anytime. On summer Sundays, I love to make big prepared salads with Israeli couscous and whatever veggies look best at the farmers market; I'll eat a scoop of this over greens for lunch all week, and it will just keep getting better day by day as the couscous pearls soak in the dressing and veggie goodness.

The traditional preparation of Israeli couscous is easy enough... it only takes fifteen minutes on the stovetop, but I've always followed the Smitten Kitchen instructions for prepping it, which include spreading it out on a cookie sheet to cool.  I hate the annoying extra dishes that this creates and the messy transfers, and like every stovetop grain recipe, you really have to nail the timing for success.  With an impulse bought box of Israeli couscous in the pantry and a simple starch-veg-meat dinner planned, I decided to play around with a slow cooker preparation and see what I could do.
My husband isn't usually the biggest fan of this grain as a side, but the first time I cooked it in the slow cooker, he was really blown away.  The preparation deepens the flavor and the machine does an incredible job of cooking the couscous to perfection (in the past, I think I've erred on the side of undercooking for fear of mush).  He said he'd eat it cooked slow cooker style every day.  Sold!

We had this dish again on Sunday night as a side to one of our favorite easy dinners, Gyros a la Trader Joe's.  Sunday was a perfect example of why I love our rice cooker.  We had a packed weekend and I was exhausted on Sunday night.  I was able to quickly throw this dish together while I gave the kids dinner, and then my work was done.  The motivation I had to cook at 5pm was long gone by 7, but the couscous waited patiently in the rice cooker, still hot and delicious two hours after I got it started.  The whole house smelled great, which motivated B to go out and light the grill instead of dialing for pizza, and soon we had a really lovely (mostly) home cooked meal to start/end the week.  
Had it been a different kind of weekend, I might have tried for homemade tzatziki, but alas, not this time around.  I do have to highly recommend this quick little chopped salad I put together though: chopped romaine and tomato, sliced Greek mixed olives, cubed avocado, and homemade croutons in a white balsamic vinaigrette.  Yum.
But wait!  The point of this post is the couscous!  Which not only complimented the gyros well, but also was the foundation and motivator for the rest of the meal, thanks to it bubbling away in the rice cooker while we put the kids to bed.  And, it was really as easy as chopping these shallots.
So, here's how you do it...

Rice Cooker Israeli Couscous with Shallots
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup Israeli couscous
2 cups water 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
freshly ground pepper

1) In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2) Add the minced shallots and sauté quickly until they soften, about 5 minutes.
3) Add the couscous to the pan with the shallots and cook for a few minutes until the grains are lightly toasted and coated with oil.
4) Transfer the couscous and shallot mixture to your rice cooker.  Add the water and spices.  Set the timer to the regular and start.
5) When the cooking cycle is complete, open the cooker and stir the couscous to fluff it up.  Taste for seasoning and add more spices if desired.  You may also wish to add a little more olive oil for a richer flavor. 
6) Serve immediately or allow to rest on the "keep warm" setting until you are ready to serve.

This is a fairly basic recipe for Israeli couscous that is flavorful enough to serve on its own, but basic enough to act as a base for other creations.  Some of my favorite things to do with Israeli couscous:
Couldn't resist sharing this gorgeous shot via Food52


  1. Made this tonight. It was exactly what I was looking for (found it via Pinterest)! I had bought the same brand of Israeli Cous Cous and was looking to make it in my rice cooker. It was easy and tasted amazing. Thank you!!!

  2. This DOES NOT WORK! I have a Fuzzy Lodic Rice Cooker which I love. Followed the directions and opened the cooker to fluffy mush. So sad.

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  4. Used your suggestions and had great success using a regular old rice cooker.

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