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Tuesday Night Test Drive: Yotam Ottolenghi's Green Couscous

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Thursday, Jul 18, 2013
Mini-choppers are not for Tuesday night cooking: there’s the cleanup factor. But life is short, and one must fly in the face of convention, even in the smallest ways.
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Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi

(Chronicle; US: Mar 2011)

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(Ten Speed Press; US: Oct 2012)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is a book of vegetarian recipes culled from his weekly column in London’s The Guardian newspaper. Ottolenghi, an Israeli Jew, works in partnership with Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian, in two London restaurants and three takeaway delicatessens.

The pair have collaborated on a second cookbook, Jerusalem, that shares not only the food of their physically proximate, culturally diverse childhoods, but the ways food, culture, politics, and religion intersect and clash in this most tumultuous of cities. Jerusalem is both a love song to a beloved city and the most political cookbook I have ever encountered.
But back to Tuesday night, and green couscous. 

Ottolenghi’s recipes are long on ingredients, and while not difficult, you gotta like cooking and accept lots of washing up afterward. If you’re game, you’ll find yourself stepping far out of your vegetable routine of greens sautéed in olive oil with lemon or oven-seared broccoli. Such simple fare would bore the genial, effervescent Ottolenghi senseless. This is a man who likes zesty, loud, busy food, preferably with a large dollop of yogurt on top.

Ottolenghi is assuming you’re using prepared couscous, here. I went him one better and used Israeli couscous, which is larger-grained, more like orzo. 

Ottolenghi’s recipe calls for pouring hot water or vegetarian broth over the couscous and letting it sit while you fry an onion in olive oil. You then add salt and cumin to the onion, put that aside, and make green herb paste.

This paste involves parsley, cilantro, tarragon, dill, mint, and olive oil. You put all this in your food processor. The resulting paste is stirred into the couscous. You then add chopped pistachios, a chopped green chile, and a cup of arugula leaves. Oh, and that sliced onion with its salt and cumin.

That’s a lot of ingredients. Also, I confess to disliking tarragon—I detest licorice—nor am I fond of mint or dill. Let’s not discuss pistachios. 

There’s also the minor matter of lacking a food processor. I do have a mini-chopper, however, which I lugged out, muttering unhappily. Mini-choppers are not for Tuesday night cooking: there’s the cleanup factor.  But life is short, and one must fly in the face of convention, even in the smallest ways. 

So, Yotam, forgive me, Green Couscous, Curious Omnivore style, went like this:

One cup Bob’s Red Mill Israeli Couscous, prepared according to bag instructions.

In a nine inch sauté pan, I poured a splosh of olive oil and added about a quarter of a sliced hot green pepper. My spouse is not a fan of screaming hot peppers.  Nor is he fond of onions. He does like scallions (go figure), so I sliced two and added them to the pot, along with two minced garlic cloves, a pinch of sea salt, and about ¾ teaspoon of cumin. This all went on a medium flame. Next, herb paste.

I took one bunch of cilantro and about a quarter of a bunch Italian parsley, which I am compelled to share made an unholy mess, jammed all this into the mini-chopper with a glug of olive oil, and processed. I needed to add more olive oil to make a paste, so I glugged more in.

I then scraped this into the pan of couscous, silently cursing the growing stack of dirty cookware. My spouse chose this time to announce whatever I was doing smelled great, which mollified me somewhat, though I am certain there is a room in hell where souls are consigned to eternally wash the innards of food processors, meticulously picking herb fragments and beaded olive oil off sharp yet fragile blades. 

I turned my attention to the pan of scallions, garlic, and pepper, adding it to the now verdant couscous. Turned this on to plates beside chicken cooked with preserved lemon.

The verdict: delicious. I worried my husband, not a huge fan of Middle Eastern food, would find the dish too weird or spicy, but he loved it, in fact hoovered up the leftovers for lunch the next day. If my Tuesday night hack job was this good, the full recipe must be truly exceptional.

For the full recipe, see Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Green Couscous” in Plenty. For a written version of my Tuesday night special, feel free to email me at

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