Curried couscous

Curry and turmeric are the golden-hued champions of our spice drawer. I have contemplated taking Indian cooking classes before, if only to learn how to better navigate their spices—exotic powders such as cardamom, star anise, ginger, and allspice from far-flung corners of the world.

Earlier this summer I smelled a chance for impromptu lessons. Our next-door neighbors invited us over for their daughter’s 1-year birthday. As we walked into the backyard, the dad gave us firm instructions: “Eat as much as you can. Not as much as you want, as much as you can.”

Behold, spread in front of us was a banquet of amazing Indian food. It turns out both of their parents had flown in for the celebration—one set from Hong Kong and the other from Florida. The proud grandparents had outdone themselves, cooking the foods of their patria: samosas, yogurt sauce, chicken masala, basmati rice, and a chickpea dish that blew our minds.

I tried to get the recipe for the grandma’s spiced chickpeas—really, I begged—but she smiled demurely and said, “You know, a little of this, a little of that.” Her taste buds and cooking habits were her recipe.

Drat.

The bad news: I do not have authentic Indian food to share with you today; that quest continues. The good news: I have another prime use for curry powder. For better or worse, it’s decidedly WASP-ier. Still, I adore Ina Garten, and her recipe won me over years ago.

The base is couscous, those diminutive balls of pasta that cook so quickly. You can also use the Israeli variety, which is slightly larger. If you want a whole-grain version, try it with quinoa. The flavor is subtly bitterer, but higher in protein so it will stick in your belly longer. Serve it on a bed of greens if you like.

Other qualities recommend this dish. It keeps and travels well, making it ideal for lunches and picnics. What’s more, turmeric is said to have mildly medicinal properties to ease joint pain.

A few more tips: I often make a double-batch of the sauce, otherwise it tastes a touch dry to my liking. You may want to consider using ½ cup of yogurt and ½ cup olive oil from the get-go (increasing the spices accordingly). Also, be sure to use a sodium-free curry mix. We once used a variety that, unbeknownst to us, had sodium in it, and it rendered the dish inedible. So salt and spice mindfully, and taste as you go.

Curried couscous

Curried Couscous

Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

Serves 6

1½ cups couscous

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1½ cups boiling water

¼ cup plain yogurt

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon curry powder

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup grated (or small-diced) carrots

½ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ cup dried currants (raisins work fine)

¼ cup blanched, sliced almonds

2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)

¼ cup small-diced red onion

Place the couscous in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous and mix well with a fork. Add the carrots, parsley, currants (or raisins), almonds, scallions, and red onions; mix well and taste for seasonings. Serve at room temperature.