Brown Butter Couscous With Spring Vegetables

April 30, 2020
7 Ratings
Photo by Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This is a quick, boldly flavored meal that’s easily adaptable based on what’s in your fridge and pantry. It features a simple trick for boosting the texture and flavor of instant couscous: Infuse the cooking water with brown butter and sumac (or another favorite spice). It’ll become intensely nutty and buttery, with the sumac’s tart, lemony notes in every bite. The same technique works well for pearl (or Israeli) couscous, and other types of pastas, grains, and seeds (such as orzo and quinoa) as long as you use the amount of water and cooking time specified on the package.

From there, let whatever fresh produce you have on hand (plus a handful of frozen peas) guide the way! The directions below reflect one of my favorite combinations: a mix of sauteed and raw radishes with spring greens (the classic duo of radishes and butter never, ever disappoints). But there are so many other options: thin coins of carrots, sliced fennel, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, and asparagus, individually or in combination. If you don’t have sumac, substitute another spice or spice blend, such as za'atar, paprika, garam masala, lemon pepper, or the zest from one small lemon. The almonds, currants, and feta are similarly adaptable; omit them, or experiment with different nuts, dried fruit, and cheese. No matter what, the combination of rich, brown-buttery couscous and bright spring vegetables is a winner every single time. —EmilyC

What You'll Need
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 cup instant couscous (see Step 2 for substituting pearl couscous)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons sumac, divided, plus more to taste (see author note)
  • 1 pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed (see author note)
  • 4 cups baby spinach or arugula
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds (or walnuts, pine nuts, or pistachios)
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants (or raisins or chopped dates)
  • 2 ounces crumbled feta (or crumbled chèvre or torn mozzarella)
  • 1 small lemon, for juicing (or white or red wine vinegar)
  1. To make brown-butter couscous (using instant): In a medium saucepan with a lid, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat and cook until it turns brown and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. Add instant couscous, 1 teaspoon sumac, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring to coat the couscous in the brown butter, then add 1 1/4 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the frozen peas. Take off heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes (or according to package directions). Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.
  2. To make brown-butter couscous (using pearl): In a medium saucepan with a lid, brown 3 tablespoons butter in the same way as described in Step 1. Add 1 cup of pearl couscous, lower heat, and toast in the brown butter for about 3 minutes (or until lightly brown in spots), stirring constantly. Add the amount of water called for on the package, and once boiling, add 1 teaspoon sumac and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook according to the package directions. In the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the frozen peas. Fluff with a fork once done.
  3. To make spring vegetables: Thinly slice two large radishes and set aside (they’ll get added raw at the end). Cut the remaining radishes lengthwise into 1/2-inch wedges. In a 12-inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the radishes to the pan, tossing to coat in the butter, and season with 1 teaspoon sumac, salt, and pepper. Cook, without moving them, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly caramelized on the first side, then stir and continue cooking about 3 minutes longer until tender and caramelized. In the last few minutes of cooking time, add almonds and currants, stirring until they’re lightly toasted, then add the spinach, stirring until slightly wilted, about 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. To finish the dish, toss the couscous with the spring vegetables in the skillet (off the heat), and add a few squeezes of lemon juice. Adjust seasoning and acidity to taste. Let cool for a few minutes, then add the feta and shaved radishes, and sprinkle with a little more sumac, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Charleen Chu
    Charleen Chu
  • Natalia
  • EmilyC
  • cooney02b

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

6 Reviews

Charleen C. February 13, 2021
Fantastic, quick and easy! This is a great weekday meal with wonderful flavors, colors and textures. Will definitely be used a lot. I kept the radish greens and added them with the spinach. It all disappeared with no leftovers.
EmilyC February 13, 2021
So happy you liked this, Charleen -- thanks for trying it and circling back!
Natalia June 23, 2020
This was absolutely delicious and full of flavor. I used millet instead of couscous, just followed the directions for pearl couscous and the package directions for millet. I think it would also be great to try with radish greens instead of spinach. Definitely a keeper recipe that I will make again and again.
EmilyC June 24, 2020
Wonderful — thanks so much Natalia for your note!
cooney02b May 6, 2020
My family loved this dish! I had to use several of the suggested substitutes (pearl couscous, chopped walnuts, and raisins), and they all worked perfectly. (The listed prep and cook times are clearly too short. It was easy and fun to make but did take longer than 10 minutes total.)
EmilyC May 6, 2020
So glad you and your family enjoyed this! Thanks so much for trying it and circling back. Re: the cook time, it should be 15 minutes, not 5 minutes. It's one of the three 20-minute dinners I posted last week -- thanks for catching that typo! I've corrected it. : )