"I love spring Fava Beans so much that every year I grow them in my garden. This recipe for Israeli Couscous with Favas, Feta and Mint is a perfect spring side dish - showcasing all that is fresh and springlike. If you don't have, or can't get fresh fava beans, feel free to substitute fresh spring peas"
The story behind Israeli Couscous with Favas, Feta and Mint
Ptitim, or Israeli Couscous, was invented about 1949 when the prime minister of Israeli asked that an alternative to rice, which was expensive and hard to find at the time, be created. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked Eugen Proper, one of the founders of the Osem food company, to quickly devise a wheat-based substitute to rice. The company took up the challenge and developed ptitim, which is made of hard wheat flour and toasted in the oven. The product was an instant success. Kids loved it. Plain with butter and perhaps some cheese. Can we say pasta?
Couscous, proper, is also a wheat product...but Israeli Couscous is actually more like Orzo. Pasta in a different shape. It cooks up quickly, has a nice mouthfeel, and is a perfect foil for adding flavors and textures. So that's how Israeli Couscous with Favas, Feta and Mint came about.
Mint and lamb = natural combo.
Feta and mint = natural combo.
Garden fresh fava beans = great color, great flavor, and texture.
What's this Fava Bean?
If you are not familiar with fava beans, check out my article on them. I love them so much I grow them every year in my garden. Sometimes I have to fight the aphids to be the first to get my tender young spouts, but persevere I do. And it's totally worth the fight.
While I love fava beans, and they are becoming more and more available in farmer's markets, heck, I've actually seen them in Safeway, you might not be able to find them. They are hardy and easily grown, but that too may not be something you can do, so if you don't have fava beans available, I would say to use some fresh spring peas as a substitute. Whichever you use in this recipe, make sure you blanch them to tender. Fava beans need to be shelled first, then blanched and the second skin removed to allow the beautiful inner green bean to shine. Peas, shell, and blanch. About 90 seconds, in either case, should do it. And as always, after you blanch them, drop them in a big bowl of ice-cold water, to stop the cooking process and set the beautiful vibrant green color.
The rest is pretty easy.
Onions sautéed in olive oil and a bit of butter for extra flavor ... add the Israeli couscous and cook it, stirring, until it's well coated in the oils and just starting to get a little toasty, not brown, just a light tan, add your liquid along with a good pinch of salt; cover and cook over medium-low heat until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the couscous is mostly tender. If the liquid is gone, add a bit of stock; then add the favas to warm them up and cook a bit. Turn off, or remove from the heat; add the cheese, fresh mint, and lemon zest. As always, taste and adjust for salt and pepper. I loved a fresh squeeze of lemon over the top for vibrant flavor, but it's optional.
OK...optional for you...not for me.
Serve with Herb Stuffed Rotisserie Leg of Lamb for a perfect meal.
Israeli Couscous with Favas, Feta and Mint
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous
- 1 ¾ cups reduced-sodium or homemade chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup shelled blanched fava beans (second skin removed if large)
- ½ cup feta cheese crumbles
- ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves loosely packed, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 4 lemon wedges
- Heat the oil and butter together in a medium sauté pan over medium heat; add the onion and cook until softened, about 2 - 3 minutes then add the couscous; stir until they are coated in the oils and just beginning to get a little toasty edge. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer; cover and cook 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove the cover and add the fava beans (or peas); cook for 2 - 3 minutes, adding a bit more liquid if needed, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat; stir in the cheese, mint leaves, parsley, and lemon zest. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with the lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.