Israeli Couscous Kitchidi (aka pearl couscous)

Israeli Couscous Kitchidi is a comforting one pot savoury breakfast of Israeli Couscous (aka pearl couscous), curry leaves, onions and a few spices.  Enjoy on its own or serve with fried/poached eggs and steamed vegetables for lunch or dinner. 

Israeli Couscous Kitchidi

This week Deliciously Indian returns with a super tasty recipe that stars a rather unusual ingredient for a traditional Indian pantry – meet your new favourite comfort food Israeli Couscous Kitchidi (aka pearl couscous).

It’s autumn down under and I have been on the lookout for a new ingredient to cook with and it is so inspiring!

A tasty recipe with a criss-cross of cultures, where the Indian spices are married to an oddly named pasta Israeli Couscous (aka pearl couscous). Yes, this couscous found its way into my kitchen and is a staple in my pantry from the first time I made it.

Here we have created a fast and easy fusion breakfast, side dish, lunch or dinner featuring Israeli couscous pearls as the main ingredient. Israeli couscous (pronounced 'koose-koose') is a type of tiny pasta, which is technically not a grain but made from a mix of semolina wheat and water. Pearl couscous is bland and soaks up the flavours of whatever it's paired with.

In this kitchidi, couscous is matched with herbs, nuts and spices for a substantial breakfast, a side dish, quick lunch or a light weeknight dinner idea, alongside fried or poached eggs and steamed vegetables.

WHAT IS israELI COUSCOUS

Israeli Couscous (aka Pearl couscous) is originally called p’titim, which translates to ‘flakes’ or little ‘crumbles’ in Hebrew. They are small white toasted balls of wheat flour, that are shaped like tapioca, with a nutty flavour. In many ways it tastes like barley, slightly chewy in texture and utterly delicious.

In contrast to traditional Moroccan couscous which has tiny grains of cornmeal, pearl couscous is made from hard durum semolina wheat. It is so named because the dough is made into equal pearl shapes by passing the dough through an extruder before toasting in the oven. Having the diameter of a peppercorn, Israeli or pearl couscous is a type of tiny-toasted pasta. It makes a delightfully soft and delicious substitute to a typical pasta or rice.

Among the various types of couscous, the most popular ones are Moroccan, Israeli and Lebanese.

  • The smallest is the traditional Moroccan couscous, made up of tiny grains of cornmeal and takes approximately 5 minutes to cook.
  • Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous) is larger with a round shape and takes approximately 8 to 10 minutes to cook.
  • About the size of a pea, Lebanese couscous is the largest of the three varieties and takes the longest to cook.

Couscous is used in a wide spectrum of cuisines including Mideast, Northern African, Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian, where it is paired with dried fruits to make salads or served as the cradle for thick lamb stews.

If a recipe calls for Israeli couscous, use only Israeli couscous and not traditional Moroccan couscous. It is very different to traditional Moroccan couscous and cannot be interchanged in recipes.

Both Moroccan couscous and Israeli couscous can be found in most supermarkets such as Woolworths, Coles, IGA and Aldi. Some Harris Farm Markets also stock both varieties of couscous.

My favourite brand is Chef’s Choice Israeli Pearl Couscous that comes in a 500g packet. Blu Gourmet Pearl Couscous is equally popular but both brands work well in this recipe. Find it alongside ordinary tiny couscous, usually stocked on the pasta shelf.

What does Israeli/Pearl couscous taste like?

Israeli couscous is inherently neutral in flavour and tastes very close to barley, so you can introduce almost any flavour with them – Middle Eastern, North African and yes, Indian too!.

Once cooked, it has a simple flavour profile, very mild to taste, nutty and a slightly chewy texture. The beads of pasta absorb the flavours of whatever liquids they are cooked in, vegetable or chicken stock or even fruit juices.

In this recipe, it takes on bolder flavours of the seasoning ingredients - cumin seeds, green chillies and curry leaves perfectly.

Is Israeli/Pearl couscous gluten-free?

Israeli couscous is silky little pearls of pasta that contains gluten, as it is made with wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, you should look for special gluten-free couscous.

upkari -v- kitchidi

If you are invited for breakfast in a Mangalorean home, chances are it will include either upkari, chapathi, panpolay, idli and chutney or conji with pickle. Kitchidi is a more recent introduction to Mangalore by those who have spent time in Mumbai and brought some culinary specialities to their homes in Mangalore.

What is upkari?

'Upkari' simply means 'stir-fry'.

If you live in Karnataka State or if you are a true Mangalorean at heart, your morning most likely begins with upma, uppittu or uppumavu, or colloquially upkari made up of semolina or beaten rice/flattened rice (poha).

Originating in the Indian states of Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, 'upkari' refers to vegetables cooked after seasoning them with oil, black mustard seeds, red/green chillies, onions and garnished with a good sprinkle of grated coconut.

'Upkari' is almost prepared daily in Konkani households of coastal Karnataka, coastal Maharashtra and Kerala.

'Upkari' can be made with vegetables and grains.

Upma is a fine example of an upkari made with refined ground semolina. It is done by first roasting semolina with a little oil or ghee. A flavourful tempering made up of oil, mustard seeds and curry leaves, followed by diced vegetables such as carrots and beans is added, and stir fried for a vegetable filled version. Finally, the roasted semolina is added and the trick is to add just the right amount of water to make it into a delightfully savoury thick savoury porridge. Adding a dash of sugar is also common in some households, for a sweet version.

What is Kitchidi?

Unlike upkari, 'kitchidi' is a dish cooked with rice and legumes. Essentially, kitchidi is almost always made with one or more legumes and a grain, usually rice with many regional variations across India.

Kitchidi has its roots in the Sanskrit word "Khiccha" - a dish cooked with rice and legumes. By the accounts of the Moroccan, French and Greek explorers to the Indian subcontinent, Kitchidi has been eaten in India for centuries.

Kitchidi is also the inspiration behind the popular Anglo-Indian dish called 'Kedgeree'. A much loved British dish, Kedgeree is traditionally cooked with flaked haddock, boiled rice, parsley, curry powder, hard boiled eggs, cream or butter. The addition of a little fish, some eggs and occasionally sultanas gives a proper Anglo-Indian flavour to this classic South Asian Kitchidi.

For more detailed information on 'Kitchidi' please visit https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/explore/story/72020/khichdi-the-origins-and-journey-of-indias-porridge

INGREDIENTS FOR THE KITCHIDI

If you are a fan of kitchidi, let me be the first one to introduce you to the 'Israeli couscous' kitchidi. It is made with the simplest of ingredients but tastes utterly delicious.

This recipe has a good flow to it, similar to making 'upma', except this kitchidi is made with pearl couscous in contrast to the traditional kitchidi, which is made with rice and legumes. Pearl couscous makes a good alternative plus adds a variety to the regular style of making kitchidi.

Starting with a seasoning of oil, curry leaves, cumin seeds and green chillies, for maximum flavour. Couscous is added half way through and toasted to bring out the nutty tones, before adding stock (I like to add stock for flavour, but feel free to add water) and simmering till almost all the liquid is absorbed. The trick is to stand it covered for 8 to 10 minutes undisturbed, so the couscous cooks to a tender but firm consistency.

  • Curry Leaves/kadi patta/kari leaf - Can't live without them! Be sure to use fresh from your garden or from your local supermarket/Indian grocery stores. They are sold in plastic bags, in the herb shelf. Added for a burst of aroma, it's the parsley of South India. Do not eat them, pick them out of the dish and set them aside. Tip: avoid using dried leaves. They are useless and do not impart the same aroma!
  • Whole cumin seeds - Is a base flavour in all Indian cooking. In this recipe, it is lightly toasted in oil to bring out its earthy and warm flavour profile. Sold in small bottles or packets in your local supermarkets, in their spice shelf. Look for Masterfoods, Hoyts, Woolworths brands in the spice shelf or 'Maharaja's Choice' in the Indian shelf. Use only what's called for in the recipe. Important: overusing would be like using way too much perfume!
  • Brown Onion - Couscous is bland, so onion is added to enhance its natural flavour. The flavour of the onion is released when cooking in a little oil, creating a base for the dish. Alternative: white or red onion.
  • Green Chillies - Adds intense depth of flavour to the dish and a good chilly kick. Tip: Remove seeds of chillies or use uncut chillies, if you are not a fan of the spiciness.
  • Potato - A pantry staple in my home and I use it in my curries and salads, soups and snacks for added taste. It has a good amount of carbohydrates and makes you feel fuller after eating. Use washed white potatoes. Alternative: Use any potatoes that hold shape during cooking. Tip: Parboil and add on top of couscous as called for in the recipe.
  • Water or Stock - We need 1¾ cup (approx. 375mL) of water or vegetable stock/chicken stock because we need the couscous to get tender but firm. When you cook it for the first time, you will know how beautifully all the liquid will be absorbed and the couscous turns into beautiful individual pearls (as shown in the image above).
  • Ghee or Clarified Butter - Adds flavour in a way only 'ghee' can! Use only ½ tsp. or skip it, if you are not a fan.
  • Toasted crushed peanuts - added as garnish, its rich toasted flavour goes beautifully with couscous. Tip: I toast the peanuts myself and pulse them in the chutney attachment of my blender for that intense nutty taste.

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS

Israeli couscous is extremely straight forward to cook and takes only 8 minutes to boil!

There are a couple of ways of cooking this couscous. Some cooks like to boil it then strain it like pasta and then add it to the pot of seasonings. Others like to simmer it with the seasonings and stock as you would do with rice or smaller couscous, until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Either way will work.

In this one pot dish, I am lightly toasting the pearl couscous with curry leaves, cumin seeds and green chillies as toasting adds a nutty dimension and keeps the couscous from being mushy, before simmering it either in water or stock until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Toasting also accentuates the nutty flavours as couscous is made with semolina and wheat flour.

This kitchidi has a bit of a kick to it depending on the number of green chillies you use. I love it spicy; it goes well with a cup of tea or a cool drink. There is also a burst of flavour from the curry leaves and the cumin seeds, and the salt from the stock (if you are using).

Couscous is bland and will soak up plenty of the salty, spicy flavours from the stock, cumin seeds and green chillies. Serve garnished with freshly toasted crushed peanuts and its a super tasty vegetarian (if using water or vegetable stock) breakfast, light lunch or quick weeknight dinner idea. If you have not tried it, you are in for a treat!

This recipe makes about 3 cups of cooked couscous including the potato. It makes a generous breakfast or a light lunch for two but if you are serving couscous for dinner, you can stretch for three people by serving a couple of fried/poached eggs and steamed vegetables on the side.

Heat oil in a small to medium heavy based saucepan with a lid

Add curry leaves and let them hiss and splutter

Stay away for a couple of seconds while they do their job!!

Add cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds or until they pop

Add green chillies and fry for 20 seconds

Add onion and fry for 2 minutes or until translucent

Add the pearl couscous.

Stir to coat in the flavoured oil

Stir constantly and fry for 2 minutes or until couscous browns slightly. Toasting couscous lightly accentuates the nutty flavours

Add water/stock, salt and stir to combine

Careful when adding hot water/stock, as it will expand rapidly for a minute

Season to taste, if required

Bring to the boil

Reduce heat to low. Close lid and simmer for 8 minutes or until almost all the liquid is absorbed, the couscous is firm but cooked through

Remove from heat

Add potatoes on top of couscous but do not stir

Stand covered for 8 minutes

Stir in ghee (if using). Use a fork to separate the couscous

If you like this recipe, tell us what you thought of it. Give this recipe a star rating and leave a comment at the end of this page. If you want to see more recipe inspirations, follow me on Instagram @lavina_mendonsa.

Israeli Couscous Kitchidi

Pearl Couscous Kitchidi

Catherine Lavina Mendonsa
A comforting one pot savoury breakfast of Israeli Couscous (aka pearl couscous), curry leaves, onions and a few spices.  Enjoy on its own or serve with fried/poached eggs and steamed vegetables for lunch or dinner. 
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Resting time 8 minutes
Total Time 33 minutes
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

  • 4 tbsp. canola oil/olive oil
  • 1 strand curry leaves
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds (2g)
  • ¼ medium onion chopped
  • 2 green chillies sliced round or to taste
  • 1 cup Israeli/pearl couscous (170g)
  • 1 medium potato parboiled, peeled and diced (70g)
  • cup boiling water or stock (approx. 375mL)
  • ½ tsp. salt or to taste
  • ½ tsp. ghee or clarified butter (optional)
  • ¼ cup roasted peanuts crushed (30g) (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Heat oil in a heavy based small to medium saucepan with a lid on medium. Add curry leaves and splutter. Add cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds till they pop. Add green chillies and fry for 20 seconds.
  • Add onion and fry for 2 minutes or until translucent.
  • Add the pearl couscous stirring to coat in the flavoured oil, then fry for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Add water/stock, salt and stir well to combine. Watch when adding hot water/stock as it will expand rapidly for a minute. Season to taste, if required. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to low, close lid and simmer for 8 minutes or until the couscous is tender and has absorbed just about all the liquid. Remove from heat.
  • Add potatoes on top of couscous but do not stir. Stand covered for 8 minutes.
  • Stir in ghee (if using). Use a fork to separate the couscous.
  • Divide among individual bowls. Serve garnished with crushed peanuts (if using) for breakfast or a light lunch. Makes a delicious dinner option served with eggs and steamed vegetables on the side.

Notes

  1. Remove seeds from chillies to reduce spiciness.
  2. You may use vegetable/chicken stock instead of water to make this recipe. If using stock, adjust salt according to your taste.
  3. Do not open lid while couscous is cooking/resting unless it is a must, as we need all the steam to cook the couscous to a tender but firm consistency.
  4. Double the quantity of ingredients for a serving of 4.
Lavina with Deliciously Indian

Hi, I’m Catherine!