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Mushroom and White Bean Couscous

Middle Eastern cuisine is a refined art.  It is influenced by dozens of cultures, and its spicy dishes reflect the fact that the Middle East was either the source or the way station for spices that came to Europe from all over Asia. Lamb, rice and various legumes (especially lentils and chickpeas)  are staples of main course dishes. Many dishes use burghul (cracked wheat or smead) in salads and chopped meat combinations.  Middle East foods include lots of salads made from both fresh vegetables in season, and cooked or pickled vegetables, and fruit in quantities.

Middle Eastern food is healthy - the famous Mediterranean diet seems to promote healthy hearts and digestive systems.
Olive oil is the healthy and tasty "universal solvent" of Middle Eastern cuisine.  Small green olives, hot green peppers and pickled or fried eggplant are served as side dishes along with dips such as tahini (made from sesame seed oil) and Humus (chickpeas and tahineh). Za'atar is a spice that grows wild in Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It is similar to oregano - but it is not oregano. Za'atar is the basis of a spice mix that is also called za'atar and contains za'atar, salt, tanning spices and other ingredients. Za'atar may be sprinkled on dishes such as humus or labani (labaneh). 
Middle Eastern cuisine was spread through parts of Europe that were ruled by the Ottoman Empire, including Greece, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Rumania, where lamb pilaf, okrah, kebab, eggplant and other dishes are popular in their local variants. 
Middle Eastern foods are usually eaten with (or in) pita bread. A pita is a flatish bread (it is the origin of the Italian word "Pizza") originally baked in a simple oven. It comes in all sizes and shapes. Iraqi pita is often the size of a very large plate, It is often used to wrap meat for "fast food."  and flat. "Regular" pita is slightly risen and the size of a small platter. That kind of pita can be opened inside to form a pocket for salad or meat or falafel. Pita can also be baked in long flat sheets (Iraqi Pita). Salads and dips can be rolled up inside. Pita can also be baked with onions, Za'atar etc. on top. Ijjeh is a kind of fast food made by baking an egg mix on top of a pita.
I always buy the packets of fine couscous from the Turkish grocers, because it makes a better texture than medium sized couscous grains, I think, and keeps better than the cardboard boxes. In fact cardboard boxes are a very bad idea after the outbreak of Indian moths in the food cupboard!
To make the couscous I pour the dry grains into a pyrex dish that has a lid, and add a ladle or two of the broth from whatever stew I'm making to have the couscous with. I'll add a knob of butter at this point as well then stir it in until the butter has melted. Then I add enough water from a recently boiled kettle to just cover the couscous, fold it in for a few seconds, then put the lid on tight.
About three minutes later when it's time to serve up I remove the lid and fluff the couscous, allowing the steam to escape.  I might add a teaspoonful of Harrissa at this point, then serve.

Mushroom and White Bean Stew over Couscous
Serves 4.


1 & 1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
1 & 1/2 cups couscous
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 cup diced onions
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 & 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 cups water
2 pinches cayenne pepper

Coat a large nonstick wok or 12-inch skillet with olive-oil cooking spray and preheat over medium to medium-high heat.
Add the mushrooms, onions, garlic, and Italian seasoning, and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.
While the mushrooms are cooking, boil water in a 1-quart saucepan over high heat and stir in the couscous; cover and remove from the heat. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed.
Add the tomatoes, beans, and cayenne pepper to the mushroom mixture. Stir to mix, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until heated through.
Stir the parsley into the couscous, divide the couscous among individual serving plates, and top with the stew. Serve immediately, as is or topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. - Fly at a Smile-Price