Does anyone else feel like they’re crawling out of the holiday season? Don’t get me wrong, I made merry with the best of them but I have to say, I missed my routine. Maybe it’s a sign of my rapidly advancing age but I do like my routine. My daily obligations help me feel balanced even when I’m not. And part of that balance comes from the food I eat. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to say the D-word or spout a trite “New year, new you” mantra. I’m obviously not cutting carbs but I’m also not eating like every meal is my last. All the chocolate, roasts, and nibbles were fun but I’m more than ready to eat like a normal human again. And this Lemony Pearl Couscous is my first step in that direction.
Pumping the breaks on a few bad food habits doesn’t mean you have to eat without joy. I do believe you tend to crave what you eat most often. And since the middle of December, my diet has been essentially a steady stream of sugar. So I’m feeling my way through some rather loud and obnoxious sugar cravings at the moment. But I’m not the cold turkey sort, so my solution is to distract myself with the whole foods I used to love back when I had a somewhat sophisticated palette and not one entirely motivated by wine gums. Enter Lemony Pearl Couscous!
This dish features chewy pearl couscous coated in a lemon, garlic, and sour cream sauce studded with green olives. The pasta is accented with caramelized shaved Brussels sprouts and topped with shredded Grana Padano cheese and crushed hazelnuts. I feel like this dish strikes a good balance between good for your body and good for your soul. Sure, there are a lot of nutrients and essential vitamins in this dish but there’s also a healthy dose of joy.
I hated Brussels sprouts as a kid and as a result, we didn’t eat them much. My grandmother would occasionally serve them to us boiled within an inch of their life. I hated the smell, texture, everything. But that all changed when I had them roasted and I found even more love for them when I had them raw in salads. These days I can’t stay away from them. They have a sweet, bitterness that I find intoxicating. They immediately bring depth to any dish they touch.
In this Lemony Pearl Couscous, Brussels sprouts do a lot of the heavy lifting. In this dish, they’re shaved, coated in olive oil and salt, and roasted to caramelized perfection. The edges burn ever so slightly bringing even more bitterness to the proceedings and this delightful paper-thin-crunch. The best part is they are a cinch to make and take just as long as it takes to make the pasta component of this dish.
The couscous is dressed in a very simple pan sauce. The sauce comes together like this. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add some thin slices of garlic. Once the garlic is golden, add red pepper flakes and saute for a minute more. Stir in some lemon juice and green olive pieces. I like to keep my olive pieces a little less than uniform because it makes each bite a little different. I also just like the look of them, which is also a totally valid reason to do anything in the kitchen. Once the olives are warm, add the pasta and toss to coat.
Now, pearl couscous does have a tendency to clump and stick. So when you’re cooking your couscous, make sure you add a tablespoon of olive oil to the water. It won’t eliminate the problem completely but it will help. And for this reason, I advise cooking and draining your couscous just prior to adding it to the skillet. The longer the couscous hangs out in a colander, the more readily it will stick together.
Once the pasta is in the skillet, it’s time to add the sour cream. Now, feel free to trim back the amount of sour cream you use but please don’t use low-fat sour cream. It’s just not worth the lackluster mouthfeel. Stir the sour cream into the pasta and do not let it come back up to a boil again. Taste and season with salt accordingly. How much salt you use will depend on how salty your olives are.
Your Brussels sprouts should be ready to go at this point, so stir 2/3 of the sprouts directly into the couscous. Transfer the pasta to a platter and top it with the remaining Brussels sprouts. Garnish the dish with coarsely crushed hazelnuts and a sprinkling of shredded Grana Padano cheese. Serve immediately. And I do mean immediately. Nothing depreciates faster than a creamy pasta dish.
And that’s everything you need to know about this Lemony Pearl Couscous with Shaved Brussels Sprouts. It’s tangy, complex, and satisfying and it’s not terrible for you. Basically, everything I look for in a January meal.
Lemony Pearl Couscous with Shaved Brussels Sprouts
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 Large baking sheet
- 1 mandoline
- 12-14 Brussels sprouts thinly shaved on a mandoline
- 4 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1½ cups uncooked pearl couscous
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 lemon juiced
- 12 green olives pitted and torn
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup Grana Padano shredded
- ¼ cup hazelnuts coarsely crushed
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
- Place the Brussels sprouts in the center of the baking sheet and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and roughly 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Using your hands, toss the sprouts in the oil and salt until fully coated.12-14 Brussels sprouts, 4 tbsp olive oil
- Spread the dressed sprouts out in an even layer before transferring them to the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized and lightly charred. Set them aside until ready to use.
- While the sprouts are roasting, bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Liberally salt the water and add the couscous and a tablespoon of the oil. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the pasta and set it aside until ready to use.1½ cups uncooked pearl couscous
- While the pasta is cooking, pour the remaining olive oil into a large skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly caramelized. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and sauté for a minute more. Add the olives and lemon juice and simmer until the olives are heated through.3 cloves garlic, 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1 lemon, 12 green olives
- Reduce the heat to low and add the couscous and sour cream to the skillet and stir to combine. Take the pasta off of the heat and add 2/3 of the Brussels sprouts and stir to integrate. Taste and season with salt accordingly. **1 cup sour cream
- Transfer the pasta to a platter and top with the remaining sprouts, the Grana Padano, and hazelnuts. Serve immediately.½ cup Grana Padano, ¼ cup hazelnuts