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Couscous. The ultimate fast food!

Couscous is Tasty
whether a meal or a snack
Secret addiction.

Ah, an ode to couscous.  I'm not sure what it is about it...but I swoon a little each time I eat it.  It cooks in five's's warm and's delicious with parmesan cheese.  What's not to love.  Okay, it's delicious with parmesan cheese may sound strange, but I promise you it's one of my favorite reasons for loving it!  Something about those whispy strands of pungeant, delicious cheese combined with miniscule grains of semolina wheat just does it for me.  I have to restrain myself from just standing over the pot and eating it all.  And NO, I'm not talking about the green kind of pot because it would all make sense then, wouldn't it?. I'm talking about the thing it was cooked in.  

Recently Near East sent me a couple of packages of their new flavor of couscous to try.  I really enjoy Near east brand, though I hadn't tried any of their varieties other than Parmesan...because sometimes I like really fast food and shun shaving my own Parm, tisk tisk...and I rather enjoy jazzing it up my own way. Since I love the parmesan variety and I thought that Toasted Pine Nut sounded pretty darn tasty...and since I am not one to turn away something free new, I told them to "put a rush on it"

Like I said, I prefer to just eat my couscous like a barbarian, but since Near East was generous enough to send me some for free, I figured I'd better figure out something to show it off a bit.  I made two dishes using the exact same's a little "dressier" if you's a little simpler.  Both were every bit as delicious as the sum of their parts.

Grilled Eggplant w/ Couscous, Toasted Pine Nuts and Herbs OR Grilled Eggplant, Couscous, Toasted Pine Nut and Herb Salad plated, one free form from the kitchen of girlichef
serves ~4- 6 (total)

One large eggplant
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 (5.6 oz) box Near East brand Toasted Pine Nut Couscous
~1/2 c. Pine Nuts, toasted
Olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
fresh mint, parsley and oregano- chopped or chiffonade
juice of a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
fresh cheese of some sort, preferably something tangy

Slice your eggplant into 1/2" thick slices.  Salt each slice and set it on a paper towel lined plate for ~20 minutes.  This will draw all the extra moisture out, allowing it to caramelize nicely on the grill...instead of just steaming.

In the meantime, prepare the couscous according to package directions. 

Make a quick vinaigrette by whisking together some olive oil and lemon juice (3 to 1, oil to acid) and adding the garlic, shallots and some salt and pepper with a pinch of herbs.  Toss a smidgeon with the chopped tomatoes.  Set the rest aside.

Quick note:  I used mint because I have plenty in the garden right now...and I had parsley on hand...I also had some oregano that I dried at the end of last season, so I just crumbled it a bit between my fingers to release the oils before I mixed them together.  If you have different herbs, feel free to substitute.  It'd be great with chives, cilantro or marjoram, as well!

Okay, once the 20 minutes is up, wipe the perspiration from the eggplant slices.  Heat a grill or grill pan.  Drizzle a little olive oil on the slices and rub it in; sprinkle w/ a little salt and pepper.  When the grill is nice and hot, add the eggplant and grill until you have gorgeous, golden grill marks and then flip and do the same on the other side. 

Okay, now to decide which way to go with your meal.  If you want to plate it up and dazzle your dinner guests...lay one slice of the grilled eggplant in the center of the plate.  Pack some of the warm couscous into a 1/4 - 1/3 c. measure (or something like it) and flip it over on top of the slice of eggplant.  Top with some of the tomato mixture.  Drizzle with a bit of the vinaigrette and artfully arrange the remaining ingredients around the plate. 

Or, if you're in a more casual mood, simply cube the grilled eggplant and toss all the ingredients together for a tasty salad!

Near East brand Toasted Pinenut Couscous has a pretty short "ingredient" list...which is good in my book.  It contains couscous, toasted pine nuts, autolyzed yeast extract, salt, dried onions, dried garlic, natural flavor, dried leeks, olive oil, dried mushrooms, soy protein, and spices (plus tocopherols for freshness). 12 things...not bad.

Near East has many great varieties which you can find at their site along with recipes on ways to use their products...if you prefer not to go the way of the barbarian which I personally find a bit endearing. Thanks Near East for the opportunity to try your new variety of couscous.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make sure you knew that Near East sent me this product FREE (jealous!?) to sample.  I promise you they didn't influence my opinion in any way, opinion and thoughts are all mine, baby.

I am submitting this to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for this Souper (soup, salad, sammie) Sundays this week, as well as to Chaya at My Sweet and Savory for her Meatless Mondays and Laura of Hey What's for Dinner Mom? for Just another Meatless Monday.  Also to The Sweet Kitchen who is hosting Presto Pasta Nights this week, created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast!
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