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
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 4
instant couscous (see Step 2 for substituting pearl couscous)
sumac, divided, plus more to taste (see author note)
kosher salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
radishes, trimmed (see author note)
baby spinach or arugula
sliced almonds (or walnuts, pine nuts, or pistachios)
dried currants (or raisins or chopped dates)
crumbled feta (or crumbled chèvre or torn mozzarella)
small lemon, for juicing (or white or red wine vinegar)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.