Pearl Couscous With Apples, Cranberries, & Herbs

The unique flavors in this Pearl Couscous With Apples, Cranberries, & Herbs blend perfectly for a memorable side dish. 

A few weeks ago we had some friends over for dinner.

Am I allowed to say that?

This is such a weird time where admitting to a dinner party feels like confessing an affair. (Also where coughing is the new farting.) Granted, our dinner group only just grazed the “gathering of 10 people” mark, so technically, we weren’t overstepping any official bounds. (There, now no one can yell at me in the comments.) Plus, personally, since having people over for dinner is something like a religious calling in my life, I felt pretty okay about inviting another family into our home after weeks of only virtual contact with friends.

While deciding a menu for our much-anticipated guests, I asked my husband if there was anything in particular he’d like to have on our special night. “How about that couscous thing you make?” he said, “The one with apples and herbs?”

I knew right away what he was talking about. I’ve been making this Giada de Laurentiis recipe for pearl couscous with apples, cranberries, and herbs for a few years now, and it’s one of those dishes that doesn’t *sound* like it’ll be anything spectacular–and then you eat it and go…

Not surprisingly, the wife of the couple who joined us for dinner ended up asking me for the recipe–not the first time someone has asked! Which I figure means it’s about time to share it on the blog.

So what makes this such a standout side? First of all, we have to give credit to the real star of this dish: the pearl couscous. If you’ve never had this larger, meatier type of couscous, you’re seriously missing out. It’s just the most delightful thing to eat–almost squeaky in its chewy roundness. Meanwhile, a savory olive oil and fresh herb dressing soaks into not only the couscous, but also into tart green apples, crunchy almonds, and sweet dried cranberries. While it may sound like more of an autumn combo, I think it’s one to enjoy all year round. It’s delicious all on its own, or serve it alongside grilled chicken or pork chops. Magnifico!

I’m happy I served this for our friends, and I stand by the decision to have them and their kids over for dinner. (I’ll even confess that we’ve now had friends over for dinner TWICE. Rebelzzzz.) Cooking for others after a lengthy stretch of isolation did wonders for my sense of well-being. And, if you ask me, while social distancing for physical health matters, connecting with others–yes, even in REAL LIFE–matters, too.

Pearl Couscous with Apples, Cranberries, and Herbs

Chewy pearl couscous pairs with tart green apples, sweet cranberries, and an herbed olive oil dressing in this memorable side dish.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins

Ingredients

For the couscous:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 c. pearl (Israeli) couscous
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced

For the dressing

  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

Instructions

Cook the couscous:

  • In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous. Cook and stir until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 10-15 minutes.

Make the dressing:

  • While couscous cooks, whisk together cider vinegar, maple syrup, salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

Put it all together:

  • In a large serving bowl, combine cooked couscous, parsley, rosemary, thyme, cranberries, almonds, and apples. Stir in dressing and serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from the Food Network.

Green Bean Casserole {No Soups, No Mushrooms}

There was a time when I thought condensed cream soups were God’s gift to the home cook. I specifically recall a Crock Pot chicken recipe I used to make that involved cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup (and maybe Velveeta cheese?). Yes, it was creamy, and probably tasty, but also crazy high in sodium and pretty highly processed.

I’ve come a long way since those days. Now, whenever I can, I prefer to make sauces for casseroles, meat, or pasta dishes myself. I’ve found doing so cuts back on mystery ingredients, reduces sodium, and honestly just results in better quality food.

Enter this condensed soup-free Green Bean Casserole.

If you’ve ever made green bean casserole with a traditional recipe, I’ll bet it called for cream of mushroom soup. I know the recipes in both my Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks start this way. But now that I’m a fan of homemade sauces–and since I’ve never been fond of mushrooms–when I wanted a green bean casserole to go with a grilled chicken dinner recently, I thought I’d try my hand at a 100% from-scratch version. (Except for the fried onions on top. Those I’m happy to outsource to good old French’s.)

This recipe came out full of savory flavor, thanks to shallot, sage, and thyme. And thanks to a vegetable broth base, it’s totally vegetarian. Even though Thanksgiving may be several weeks off, I’d make this again for a veggie side dish any day!

Give this one a try if you’re looking for something a little less processed, or if someone in your family has the good sense to not like mushrooms. 🙂

Green Bean Casserole {No Soups, No Mushrooms}

Not crazy about mushrooms? Prefer not to use condensed soups? This delicious from-scratch Green Bean Casserole is for you!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 24 oz. frozen French-style green beans
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • generous 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 1/4 c. vegetable broth
  • 6 oz. crispy fried onions

Instructions

  • Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Add green beans and cook about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Wipe out the pot and melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour, salt, pepper, sage, and thyme and whisk about 1 minute.
  • Add milk and vegetable broth and whisk to combine. Increase heat to medium and whisk occasionally until sauce thickens. (It's ready when the whisk leaves a defined trail.) Remove from heat and stir in green beans.
  • Spray an 11 x 7-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour in green bean mixture and smooth. Sprinkle with fried onions.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce

In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid using tahini. It’s just so expensive, I thought, and what on earth would I do with an entire jar of sesame paste? Sure, I like hummus like any red-blooded Millennial, but I just couldn’t see making that much of it from scratch.

Little did I know that tahini can be used for other things besides hummus.

A few weeks ago I came across this helpful post on Babble that set me straight. Twenty-eight ways to use tahini that AREN’T hummus? The mystery! The intrigue! Turns out the sesame flavor and smooth texture of tahini lends itself to salad dressings, pestos, and even…brownies? While that particular suggestion may be going a bit too far for my tastes, the idea did broaden my horizons. When I ended up buying a jar at Trader Joe’s (for only around $3–far cheaper than I expected) it was with plenty of options on my radar.

This amazing all-purpose tahini sauce started its life as a dressing for a to-die-for roasted cauliflower salad over at Budget Bytes, but in my house, it’s turned into so much more. This week I put it on baked salmon, dipped pita in it, and have been seriously considering its possibilities as a sandwich spread. (With a bit of deli turkey, sprouts, and cucumber, it sounds like Mediterranean perfection.) I could see it working well on grilled chicken, as a veggie dip, or on falafel.

And, if you’re really adventurous, I suppose you could even use it in brownies.

Amazing All-Purpose Tahini Sauce

A tangy sauce that works perfectly on fish, chicken, or just for dipping!
Servings: 4 (makes about 1 cup)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. tahini
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Instructions

  • In a measuring cup, mix all ingredients until well combined. Keep covered in the refrigerator.

Notes

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Sage

Here’s a random tidbit: when you start a Google search with the words “how many people do…” Google does NOT assume you are asking it about potatoes and how many pounds feed how many people. No, my friends, Google wants to answer these other, far more intriguing questions:

Because apparently a lot more people want to know how many of us are getting killed by hippos than how many potatoes to buy to feed a crowd. Not sure how to take this, but I feel like it says something about our priorities?

Anyway, though I am (now) a bit curious how many people die annually from hippo attacks, I really did want to know about mashed potato portions, because it’s an area of culinary expertise that eludes me. Mashed potatoes seem like one of those foods that defy boundaries. There’s nothing exact about them. And since they so often appear as just one item in a multi-item meal (Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, let’s say), anything from a dollop to a pile seems fairly reasonable.

Well, it’s time to settle the score. The OFFICIAL serving size of mashed potatoes, as dictated by the Food and Drug Administration, is 140 grams. Since no one in the U.S. measures their food in grams (get it together, FDA!), allow me to interpret. 140 grams = 5 ounces, which for potatoes equals about 1/2 cup.

Therefore, if you want to make mashed potatoes for eight people, like this recipe does, 5 oz x 8 people = 40 ounces, or 2 1/2 pounds. Assuming no one’s going crazy with a potato free-for-all.

THIS MEANS SOMETHING. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

That’s how, even with creamy goat cheese, whole milk, and a bit of butter, these delicious, sage-kissed mashed potatoes end up with only 200 calories per serving. Portion control, y’all.

This hearty side dish makes a spot-on accompaniment to meat dishes like ham, pork chops, or meatloaf. What favorite meal would YOU serve it with?

Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Sage

Mashed potatoes get a flavor makeover with creamy goat cheese and fresh sage in this side dish.
Servings: 6 as a side

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs. Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Cook potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender, 12-15 minutes. Drain and return to the pan. Add goat cheese and butter and mash or blend with an immersion blender (the immersion blender does a much nicer job getting a creamy texture!). Add milk and sage continue to mash/blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from Bon Appetit.

Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta

Three ways you know you’ve found the best green bean recipe ever:

  1. You make it more than once.
  2. When you serve it at Thanksgiving, it disappears to the last bean.
  3. You actually sneak it out of the fridge to snack on it at night.

Or, perhaps all of the above…because all of these things have been true in our household with these Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta. Who’da thunk a green bean side dish could be so appealing?

I featured this recipe on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page during my annual Healthy Thanksgiving Countdown as an alternative to the usual green bean casserole. To take my own advice, I decided to make it for the Thanksgiving dinner we attended with friends. It turned out better than I could have hoped, the beans pan-steamed to crispy crunachability and the feta and toasted almonds soaking up the lemony, garlicky dressing. When everyone was served at dinner, nary a bean was left.

On the heels of this success, I served this again at Christmas dinner. Even my 6-year-old fought me to eat the leftovers–cold. That’s a good sign.

Is it weird that eating this makes me think of the Gollum quote from The Hobbit:

“Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?”

Because yes, it is. And that beats green bean casserole any day, if you ask me.

 

Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta

Crisp-tender green beans tossed with a lemony dressing and sprinkled with toasted almonds and feta make an incredible side dish!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Side Dish
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. sliced almonds
  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and sliced in half
  • 3 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/3 c. crumbled feta cheese, divided

Instructions

  • Toast the almonds one of two ways: either bake them for 3 minutes at 325 degrees or heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until toasted. Set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add green beans, water, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring periodically. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Continue to cook another 3-5 minutes or until water has evaporated and beans are crisp-tender and bright green. Remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, dijon, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flaked, and black pepper.
  • When beans are done cooking, toss with toasted almonds, lemon dressing, and half the feta. Spread on a platter or serving dish and sprinkle with remaining feta. Serve immediately.

Notes

Adapted from Cookie and Kate.