Do you remember the potluck pumpkin-carving party I mentioned in my Halloween post? Well, this is what we had planned to make as one of our family’s contributions. It is an autumn couscous that is absolutely bursting with all of the colors and flavors of fall. Apparently, it is also simple enough that an “almost five-year-old” can make it “all by herself”. (At least that’s what Annie told her daddy. She must assume that couscous and butternut squash come already prepared.)
Unfortunately, that day got away from us and the ingredients were still sitting in the pantry long after the last dish was put away. Looking back, this is both a good and a bad thing. Bad, because I know that our friends and neighbors would have really enjoyed it. Good, because our family now gets to nibble on it all weekend long.
This autumn couscous is not only the perfect balance of sweet and savory, it is also jam-packed with nutrients. When roasted, butternut squash tastes decadently sweet. It also is rich in the antioxidants that help naturally lower blood pressure and slow the visible signs of aging. While the squash is roasting, Israeli couscous is toasted, simmered in broth, and then garnished with a simple dressing of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and immunity-boosting apple cider vinegar. To round out the flavors and colors of the season, dried cranberries, crunchy pecans, earthy thyme, and fresh basil are added into the mix. Colorful, rich in nutrients, simple to prepare, and bursting with flavor. What more could you ask for in a potluck-friendly fall dish?
Ingredients (Serves 8 – 10 as a side dish, 4 – 6 as a vegetarian main):
For the roasted butternut squash:
½ of a butternut squash
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
For the toasted couscous:
1⅓ cups Israeli couscous, ½ pound, also labeled as pearl couscous
1 tbsp real butter
1¾ cups organic chicken broth
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
¾ tsp sea salt
¾ tsp black pepper
For the finishing touches:
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup lightly crushed pecans
12 large basil leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves and tender stems only (can sub ½ tsp dried thyme)
Instructions (30 minutes, mostly active, can be made ahead):
Roast your squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While oven heats, peel, de-seed, and dice ½ of a butternut squash into ½ inch cubes. (I use my potato/carrot peeler to peel the squash.) In a suitable sized mixing bowl, toss cubed squash with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and ½ tsp sea salt. Arrange squash in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. When oven is hot, roast squash for 18 – 20 minutes, until decadently sweet and tender. Transfer squash to a dinner plate and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
At the same time the squash goes into the oven, toast your couscous: Heat a medium sized saucepan (that has a matching lid) over medium heat for about 5 minutes. When pan is hot, add one tbsp real butter. When butter has melted, add couscous and stir constantly for 3 – 5 minutes, until couscous is lightly browned and releasing a nutty aroma. Add 1¾ cup chicken broth to skillet, increase heat to bring broth just to a boil. As soon as the broth boils, reduce heat to medium-low, cover saucepan with a tight fitting lid, and allow grains to simmer for 10 – 12 minutes, until the liquid has all been absorbed. Remove pan from heat and stir in 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, and ¾ tsp each sea salt and black pepper.
Pulling it all together: In a suitable sized mixing bowl or serving dish, stir together toasted couscous and butternut squash. When thoroughly combined, add all ingredients listed under “for the finishing touches”, tearing the basil into small bites directly over the salad. Serve and enjoy.
Working ahead: If making this dish in advance, wait to add the pecans and fresh basil until ready to serve. Keep the rest of the salad tightly covered in the fridge. 30 minutes before you want to eat, transfer the couscous to the countertop and allow it to come to room temperature. At this point, add your pecans and basil. When refrigerated, pecans lose their crunch and basil starts to brown. (But the leftovers still taste great! I just wanted to give you the max appeal for the initial serving.)
Notes: Vegetarians can use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. Those sensitive to gluten can omit the Israeli couscous and use an equal amount of prepared quinoa in its place. For those with nut allergies, omit the pecans and add ½ cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese to keep the savory factor. Both of my girls enjoyed this recipe exactly as written, especially after I helped them realize how this dish perfectly matches the current colors of our trees.
Wondering what to do with the other half of your squash… Make Butternut Squash Sloppy Joe’s! That’s what we did!