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Israeli Couscous with Squash, Feta and Almonds

Israeli couscous is larger and more substantial than the familiar North African variety and makes an excellent base for an unusual pasta salad with a bounty of flavorful ingredients. Serve this as a first course or as part of a holiday buffet.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup almonds
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 acorn squashes, about 2 1/2 lb. total
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for
      drizzling
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh mint, plus sprigs for
      garnish

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Place the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Leave the oven on.

In a small bowl, combine the sage, 1 tsp. of the salt, the cinnamon, chili powder and pepper and stir well.

Peel the squashes. Cut each squash crosswise into rings about 1 inch thick and discard the seeds. Rub the cut sides with the 1 Tbs. olive oil. Arrange the rings on a baking sheet and rub both sides with the sage mixture. Roast until lightly browned and easily pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Cut each ring into 4 sections.

Rinse the couscous in cold water and let drain in a colander for about 10 minutes. Fill a saucepan half full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain in the colander.

Transfer the couscous to a warmed platter. Drizzle with a little olive oil and gently fluff, separating the grains with your fingertips. Season with the remaining 1 tsp. salt, then taste and adjust the seasonings.

To serve, sprinkle the couscous with the feta cheese, almonds and minced mint. Turn gently to distribute the ingredients and then fold in the squash. Garnish with the mint sprigs and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining, by Georgeanne Brennan (Oxmoor House, 2007).