Summertime couscous

In France I learned to make summer couscous dinners that were light, quick and easy to prepare.

couscous 2 88 248 (photo credit: Bloomberg News)
couscous 2 88 248
(photo credit: Bloomberg News)
When I lived in Paris, I enjoyed dining in casual couscous restaurants almost as often as I went out for falafel when I lived in Jerusalem. I frequented Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian couscous eateries, where the steaming mounds of yellow semolina granules were served with a tureen of broth and a platter laden with meats and vegetables. In France I also learned to make summer couscous dinners that were light, quick and easy to prepare, like the one in the menu below. For the entree I quick-steam the couscous with chicken broth, and top it with chicken breasts and sweet red peppers in a light cumin-scented sauce. To choose an accompaniment for the main course, I turn to the garden or the farmer's market. Anyone who has grown vegetables knows that squash and tomato plants go into overdrive at this time of year, and green beans are plentiful too. I like to combine the vegetables in a savory sauté flavored with fresh thyme and a touch of extra virgin olive oil. This vegetable trio makes a tasty, colorful partner for the chicken and the couscous. With such a great selection of fruit in season, from stone fruit like peaches and plums to watermelons and melons to mangoes and grapes, making a light, tasty dessert is easy. Prepare a medley of three or more kinds of fruit accented with a hint of honey and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. For a more festive finale, you might like to top the fruit salad with parve ice cream or sorbet, or serve it with a slice of light cake, such as angel food or sponge cake. COUSCOUS WITH CHICKEN AND ROASTED PEPPER Couscous is the fastest cooking pasta - it's ready in five minutes. If you like, use whole-wheat couscous, which is available in health food stores and is prepared exactly like plain couscous. Lean chicken breasts stay moist and tender when quickly braised in chicken broth. You can substitute turkey breast for the chicken. If you prefer a vegetarian dinner, use firm tofu or soaked soy schnitzel instead of chicken, or heat chickpeas in the sauce. • 450 gr. boneless skinless chicken breast • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil • 11⁄2 tsp. ground cumin • 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric • salt and freshly ground pepper • 1 3⁄4 cups chicken broth • 1⁄3 cup minced fresh onion or 2 Tbsp. dried minced onion • 1⁄2 to 1 cup strips of roasted red bell peppers, from a jar or fresh (see Note below) • Harissa or other hot sauce to taste • 12⁄3 cups couscous Trim visible fat from chicken and cut meat in 2.5-cm. dice. Heat oil in a large heavy sauté pan. Add chicken and sprinkle with cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add 1⁄2 cup broth and dried onions. Stir and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover and cook over medium-low heat about 5 minutes or until meat changes color throughout; cut a thick piece to check. Add red pepper strips and harissa to taste. Cover and keep warm. Bring remaining broth and 3⁄4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in couscous and return to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve couscous in bowls and top with chicken and its sauce. Makes 4 servings. NOTE: To grill and peel peppers: Broil 1 or 2 sweet red peppers about 10 cm. from heat source for 15 minutes or until their skins are blistered and charred, turning them every 4 or 5 minutes with tongs so another side faces flame. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover; or put in a plastic bag and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel peppers using paring knife. Halve peppers; be careful, as they may have hot juice inside. Discard seeds and ribs, and pat dry. Do not rinse. Cut in strips. QUICK ZUCCHINI AND GREEN BEAN SAUTE WITH TOMATOES AND THYME To make the dish more colorful, use yellow summer squash instead of zucchini or yellow beans instead of green beans. You can substitute fresh basil for the thyme; use about 2 tablespoons thin strips of basil leaves. 350 gr. zucchini or pale-green skinned squash (kishuim) • 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil • salt and freshly ground pepper • 350 gr. green beans • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped (optional) • 225 gr. to 350 gr. ripe tomatoes, diced • 11⁄2 to 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 3⁄4 to 1 tsp. dried thyme Quarter zucchini lengthwise, then cut in 3 crosswise. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat, add zucchini, salt and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with slotted spatula to a plate. Add beans to a large saucepan of boiling salted water and boil for 5 or 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain in a colander. Add 1⁄2 tablespoon oil to pan from zucchini and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and stir a few seconds. Add green beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Sauté about 2 minutes or until heated through. Add zucchini and thyme and heat briefly, tossing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings. SUMMER FRUIT SALAD WITH HONEY AND LIME JUICE Now is the time to enjoy the fresh mangoes in season. To showcase their fine flavor, serve them in very simple desserts like this fruit salad. If you like, substitute peaches or nectarines for the mango or add sliced bananas. Instead of the plums and green grapes, consider using kiwis and red grapes. If you prefer, replace the honey with maple syrup or brown or white sugar. I like fruit liqueurs or brandies such as Grand Marnier or kirsch with most fruit but when I'm using mango, I prefer to let its flavor shine on its own. If you have candied ginger, you can sprinkle a few strips over the fruit for an exotic-tasting garnish. • 1 large ripe mango or 3 peaches • 2 sweet plums • 1 cup green grapes • 2 tsp. lime or lemon juice • 2 to 3 tsp. honey or sugar, or more to taste • 1 tsp. water Cut mango in half lengthwise, cutting slightly off center so you don't hit the pit with your knife. Place each mango half cut side down on the board. Using a small paring knife, cut off the peel in strips. Cut off remaining mango adhering to pit and cut off its peel with paring knife. Dice mango and transfer to a bowl. Cut plum in thin slices and add to bowl. Add grapes. In a cup mix lime juice, honey and water. Add to fruit and mix gently. Serve cold. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of 30 Low-Fat Meals in 30 Minutes.