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Israeli Couscous with Afghan-Inspired Caramelized Carrots

My favorite Afghan restaurant is Bamiyan, on the corner of E. 26th St. and 3rd Ave., just a few blocks away from Kalustyan’s. I discovered it when I was taking the bar exam last summer. Dave’s job over those few days was to make sure that I actually ate dinner, when all I wanted to do was keep studying, worry about the answers I’d already put down, and eventually collapse from exhaustion. He dragged me all over the city exploring new and interesting restaurants in those three nights. Kept me distracted by thoughts of interesting cuisines, and properly fed. Insisted on checking out Bamiyan after looking through reviews of Afghan restaurants on CitySearch.

We loved it. The kadu (pumpkin turnovers with yogurt dip) were so good that I had to replicate them at home within the next few weeks. I’m still trying to find a good recipe for my favorite dish there, fesenjan (chicken in a very thick, intense pomegranate walnut sauce).

The point of all this is that last time we were there, I ordered the Lamb Couscous and he ordered the Kabuli Palow with Lamb. The lamb was similar in both dishes and very good, but our sides tasted best when combined. My couscous had these wonderful juicy raisins in them. His rice had these richly flavored shreds of caramelized carrot. Together, they were ideal.

We purchased some bison skirt steak at the farmer’s market, and cooked it the other night according to the meat seller’s advice, which failed. It was far too chewy, and not nearly so good as our usual skirt steak purchased at the local Italian butcher or at Union Market. I’m not sure whether this was because it was bison, or because it was grass-fed, or because we cooked it the wrong way – if we are going to experiment properly, we really ought to change only one variable at a time.

(If anyone has advice on how to best cook bison, or grass-fed meat in general, I’d love to hear it.)

Though the meat was not so great, the couscous was the best we’ve ever made. At home, we tend to make Israeli couscous, which is an entirely different beast than typical Mediterranean couscous. Israeli couscous is an extruded pasta, with much larger grains. Osem brand Israeli couscous is what I grew up on, with my mother buying it from her favorite butcher over on Avenue M in Brooklyn. Nowadays, I buy it cheaply and in bulk from the Park Slope Food Co-op. My mother makes it with caramelized onions and water, but this time we added port-soaked sultanas and used homemade chicken stock instead of the water. And of course, we topped it with those carrots, which were caramelized with just a bit of sugar, thick Chinese soy sauce, and port stirred in near the end.

Let us take a break from desserts and jams. Let us not worry about our failed bison. Our new tagine will arrive in a few weeks, and now we know we can make the perfect couscous to accompany whatever we cook in there.

Israeli Couscous
250 grams Israeli large-grain couscous
2 1/2 C homemade chicken stock, boiling (we freeze ours in the ice cube tray and then keep a ziplock full of the cubes in the freezer – each ice cube turns out to be about 1/10 C)
1 onion, chopped
50 grams sultanas (golden raisins), soaking in enough hot tawny port to cover them completely
Salt and pepper to taste

Caramelize the onions in a bit of olive oil until brown and fragrant. Add the dry couscous and toast, stirring with the onions, until they start to get start to get a bit darker. Drain the sultanas, and be sure to reserve the port, as you will use it when making the carrots.

Throw in the drained sultanas, add salt and pepper, then the boiling chicken stock. Lower the stove to a simmer and cover the pan for about 10 minutes. If it turns out too dry for your tastes, add more boiling stock (or water) and let it simmer, covered, a bit longer. Once it is done, remove it from the heat, stir it up, and leave it covered until you are ready to eat.

Afghan-Inspired Caramelized Carrots
4 large-ish carrots, julienned
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp thick Chinese soy sauce (the sort that is mostly molasses)
3 tbsp tawny port (left over from draining the raisins for the couscous)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the sugar, soy sauce, and port together in a small bowl. Caramelize the carrots in a bit of olive oil until they become soft enough for your tastes (I prefer them slightly firm, actually, but no longer crisp) and are starting to brown. Pour in the contents of the small bowl, salt, and pepper, and stir until fragrant. Remove from heat.

Serve the carrots atop the couscous aside whatever entree you please.

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15 Responses to “Israeli Couscous with Afghan-Inspired Caramelized Carrots”

  1. Ivonne says:


    Just gorgeous! And thank you for the instructions on preparing the Israeli couscous! I bought some recently but I wasn’t sure how to cook it since the grains are larger than the usual couscous that I buy.

    Thank you!

  2. Tanna says:

    If I do nothing else, I must make the carrots!!! Wow.
    Stunning photo Danielle, I’m so close to licking the screen…

  3. kathryn says:

    I love your blog and am going to try making the blueberry crisp. anyway, regarding this
    post; my ex-boyfriend is Israeli and claims to have never even seen this stuff they call
    “Israeli cous-cous”. Evidently this larger style of cous-cous does not exist over there.
    Sort of like the English muffin, I guess. Hmmmm……

  4. novalis says:

    Kathryn, Osem, the company that we buy Israeli couscous from, is Israeli (well, it’s a branch of Nestle, but it’s an Israeli branch.

  5. Diana says:

    I’m kind of wondering about the advice the farmer gave you… Care to tell?

    The most important thing about cooking bison is not to overcook. The most important thing about cooking grassfed meat is not to overcook.

    We’ve never cooked grassfed bison, but I’d guess the most important advice is REALLY REALLY not to overcook. The reason is that grassfed meat is leaner than grain-fed, and bison is already a very lean meat. So you have very little margin of error, and overcooking, as you have discovered, leads to drying out. So, you want to cook as gently as possible. The plus side is that the grassfed meat has wonderful flavor.

    TW suggests poaching prime cuts – either wrap in clingwrap and poach in water (BARELY simmering), or poach in stock (in which case no need to bother with cling wrap). You lose the caramelization from the simmer, but get all the great grassfed flavor.

    If you want that caramelization, just sear and rest.

    And regardless of your choice of cooking method, ALWAYS bring meat to room temperature before cooking.

  6. Diana says:

    EDIT: “you lose caramelization from the SEAR (if you simmer)”

  7. This is the typ of dish i would really love, make often as a matter of fact. israeli couscous and caramelized carrots are a great association! Very nice!

  8. Danielle says:

    Ivonne – Great timing. This was one of my mother’s default starches when I was growing up, though she usually makes it with just the onions and boiling water (not stock) and salt/pepper. I actually don’t know how to make any other sort of couscous, to be honest.

    Tanna – If only someone would invent lickable screens that transmit the flavor of the image! That would be the best.

    kathryn – Thanks! Let me know how the crisp goes; I love hearing about it when people cook things I’ve posted about. I actually don’t recall seeing large grain couscous when I was in Israel either, but like Dave said, Osem is an Israeli company, and my mother who cooks it all the time was born in Israel.

    Diana – Thank you so much for the advise. We’ll definitely trying poaching the grass-fed meat, and also perhaps different cuts instead.

    Bea – Thank you!

  9. mr skin says:

    Ooohwee, that sounds delicious. I am going to try that out tomorrow. Thanks!

  10. shelly says:

    What is known as “Israeli couscous” in the US is called “ptitim” in Israel. It was one of the main pastas available in Israel for quite a while. Today, Israelis have access to Barilla and other imported Italian pastas of all shapes and sizes. Osem’s humble “ptitim” aren’t much competition, except for their nostalgic value to those who grew up on them.

    I share your love for central Asian food. Have you tried Uzbeki osh pollow? It’s wonderful stuff, featuring slivered carrots.

  11. Danielle says:

    mr skin – I hope it worked out for you.

    shelly – No, I’ve never tried that. But now I really want to!

  12. [...] Side Dishes Crispy Potatoes Israeli Couscous with Afghan-Inspired Caramelized Carrots Sweet and Sour Lotus Root [...]

  13. Suzanne says:

    Hello – I stumbled upon your blog last evening while trying to find a way to cook up Israeli couscous – I had bought myself a bag at our local health food shop because they looked interesting. The lady at the cash asked me how to cook them and I didn’t know either. Thanks for your great recipe that I will try. I am also interested in your version of the pumpkin turnovers (kadu) as well as the chicken with walnut pomegranate sauce – that sounds delicious. Georgian (Russian not Southern State) often has similar influences and I have come across a chicken with plum and walnut sauce in a wonderful cookbook called “Crazy water pickled lemons” by UK writer Diana Henry. Well worth the splurge if you can get a copy. Will continue to check your blog – again, thanks a lot.

  14. Laura says:

    Bamiyan is *amazing*! I live in Ohio now and am going to be in NYC next week — as soon as I get in I am making a beeline for those pumpkin turnovers. But you’ve inspired me to try to make them myself when I get back home!

    This really brought back memories. Thanks!

  15. Jesse says:

    I live in the west where game such as elk, deer, and other forms, as well as bison are common fare. Folks here cook all of them in the various ways beef and other domestic animals are prepared with an eye toward their very lean nature. Overcooking is probably the only drawback to any of these meats and all are delicious when not overcooked, whichever method you choose. Large pieces of lean meat are best cooked by the low and slow methods, even if it’s a tough cut of meat. Poaching will work, as well as braising, but roasting or grilling works very well, too, as long as it’s done over low heat and slowly. If you google “bison cooking” you’ll get lots of returns from sources like the Bison Growers Assoc, ranchers who raise bison, and people who love to cook and eat bison. You’ll find more information than you actually need, but it’s reassuring. Don’t dispair, you’re onto a good thing and success is just around the corner.

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