Cumin-Scented Butternut Squash Couscous
While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a picky eater, there are many foods I shy away from. Most seafood, for, uh … one. I also keep my distance from anything licorice-y, raisins, most caramels (but never this one), coconut, tofu, fresh tomatoes and until recently, all forms of butternut squash. It wasn’t the flavor of the squash itself that turned me off, but rather the way it was so often prepared: with tons of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Deterred by one too many butternut squash soups that tasted like pumpkin pie filling, I even stayed away from my mom’s squash curry, which is more spicy and smoky — exactly the kind of squash recipe I was looking for — if I had bothered to try it.
When I got a recipe for butternut squash couscous with cumin in my email one morning, I was instantly intrigued. I forwarded the email to my aunt, who is a big couscous fan, and when she showed equal enthusiasm, I knew it was on. My time to conquer butternut squash had come.
This recipe was foolproof and since we bought pre-cut squash, super easy. It’s based loosely on one from Aida Mollenkamp by way of Chowhound, though we of course made plenty of changes. Our version is below. It would be perfect with roast lamb for a very Moroccan-style meal, but we had it with chicken and still enjoyed it immensely.
– 2-1/2 cups butternut squash, diced (the smaller you cut them, the faster they’ll cook)
– 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
– 1 small yellow onion, diced
– 1 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1 dried red pepper, crushed (or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
– 1 cup Israeli couscous
– 1-1/4 cup warm water
– juice of 1 lemon
– 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, to garnish (cilantro or mint would work well too)
– salt and pepper, to taste
1) Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil. Add the onions and cook on medium-high heat until they begin to brown slightly.
2) Add the chickpeas, squash, cumin, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Stir well to incorporate all of the ingredients. Cook on medium heat until the squash is browned and almost fork tender, stirring every now and then (my squash were cut relatively big, so this took about a half hour — smaller-cut squash will cook faster).
3) Add the water and turn up the heat. When the water begins to boil, add the couscous. Turn the heat to medium, cover the pot and let the couscous cook for 8 minutes, or until the water is fully absorbed. Add the lemon juice and basil and toss.
Variations: You could add anything to this recipe, including olives, toasted pine nuts (the original recipe calls for sliced almonds), raisins if you’re not averse or perhaps some crumbled feta. You could also swap smoked paprika for the crushed red pepper if you want more smoky, cayenne if you want more spicy, toast some cumin seeds with the oil (or even some sage leaves) or add some garlic in with the onions. I’d like to try tossing the squash with some oil and the spices and roasting it to really bring out its flavor, but for now, this version is perfect.