Toasted Israeli Couscous with Winter Squash & Preserved Lemon

toasted israeli couscousConversation I had with myself today:

Me: “Can you still say “Israeli” couscous? I mean, is that kosher?”

Myself: “Heh. Kosher. Get it?”

Me: “You’re not helping. Is “Israeli” couscous still what we call it, or is that like saying “Oriental” when you’re not talking about a carpet?

I: “Why don’t we call them Asian carpets anyway? How come oriental carpet is still OK, but oriental anything else is verboten?”

Myself: “Well, Asian tends to piss off India, since they don’t identify with “Asian” but are, in fact, a big chunk of Asia. Maybe Indians pressured the carpet lobby? Or maybe “Asian” carpet would sound too much like “Persian” carpet and get confusing?”

Me: “Again. Not helping. Focus, people. Is it Israeli couscous, or pearl couscous, or is there some new PC term that I have yet to learn?”

I: “What’s the provenance of Israeli couscous anyway? I mean, was it originally some type of slur, a way to identify “those” people in the neighborhood? Or was it just benignly descriptive? And do they even serve Israeli couscous in Israel? Presumably, over there, it’s just “couscous.” But then, what do you say if you want regular, tiny couscous? Middle Eastern couscous?”

Me: “Do I really need to research the etymology of Israeli couscous just to write a freaking blog post?” 

Myself: “Apparently you do.  And how the hell do you pronounce “ptitim” anyway?”

Me: Facepalm.

This is what it’s like in my head, people. All. the. time. Really, you don’t want to be there. You do, however, want to be in my kitchen, especially if I’m making toasted Israeli-pearl-ptitim-maftoul-couscous. A bit of savory-sweet from roasted winter squash, some bright & funky salt from the preserved lemon, a touch of spice from Aleppo pepper, a peppery bite from a handful of fresh parsley, and every bite is perfectly balanced: tart, sweet, spicy, bitter. No matter what you call it, it really only needs one word: delicious.

toasted israeli couscousToasted Israeli Couscous with Winter Squash & Preserved Lemon


  • 1 and 1/2 lbs winter squash, seeded, peeled, diced to 1/2-inch (I used Long Island cheese pumpkin)
  • olive oil
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed but rind unrinsed, finely chopped, divided
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped, loosely packed

toasted israeli couscousMETHODS

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, drizzle squash cubes liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and toss until uniformly coated. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast, turning once or twice, until the edges are crisp and just beginning to brown, about 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large dry skillet, toast the couscous over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and very fragrant, about 5 – 7 minutes. Transfer couscous to a heat-safe bowl. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the skillet and bring to a shimmer. Add onion, sautéing until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper. Sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add water, couscous, and about 3/4 of the chopped lemon rind (reserve the remaining 1/4 for serving). Stir, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered, until squash is done.
  3. Remove squash from oven and allow to cool slightly on the pan. Taste couscous: add more lemon peel or Aleppo pepper as needed. If the dish needs salt, mince a little of the preserved lemon pulp and stir that in. Stir in pumpkin and parsley. Serve warm with extra lemon peel, Aleppo pepper and parsley to garnish.

Serves 4 – 6 as a side.

toasted israeli couscousOPTIONS

  1. I like to keep my squash cubes small, and cook them thoroughly, so there is a little crispness to the texture, but of course, you know how you like roasted squash best. Feel free to roast only until tender, or keep them in larger chunks, if you prefer.
  2. The parsley is key here for a bit of peppery bite to offset the sweet pumpkin and tart lemon. Cilantro may work just as well, or well-chopped arugula.
  3. The sweetness of winter squash can vary substantially based upon the variety, growing conditions, and time since harvest. If you find you need a little sweetness to balance the dish, drizzle with just a tiny bit of honey before serving.


Refrigerated, up to 3 days.


Fall through winter.


  1. Refreshing to know I’m not the only one who has such extensive self-dialogues.

    Since I’m cooking for the week this weekend, I’m going to add this to the list. My husband won’t touch it since it has orange vegetables and preserved lemons, but I’ll be perfectly happy to take it for lunch and make my coworkers envious.

  2. I loved the inner-dialogue. We’re guilty of this. I don’t mind being called Asian haha (I’m of Indian descent). I need some variation on grain, I’ll pick up some Israeli Couscous soon thanks to your recipe. Cheers.

  3. Jenny C

    Other than the preserved lemon, I have all of this in the house. This is crucial, since my town got the highest Nemo snowfall of anywhere in the region, and most of the streets still aren’t plowed! So I intend to make do with regular lemon zest and some kosher salt. Not quite the same, I know, but housebound beggars can’t be choosers.

    • A friend in Shelton just saw the first plow out in front of her house. Help is on the way!

      If you use regular lemon, I’d add some lemon juice to the cooking water: maybe a tablespoon or two, as the finished flavor using preserved lemon is really quite lemony. Also, this might be the time for any fancy salts that are lingering in the back of the cupboard.

      And, if you have a couple of spare lemons, why not bury some in salt? In a few weeks, you won’t need to leave the house for preserved lemons. 🙂

      • Jenny C

        Yes, the universe has been telling me to make some for weeks now: every recipe I like has them as an ingredient. But I’ve been holding out in hopes of finding some organic lemons…

  4. Funny you should mention this. We had a guest at the restaurant that I work at flip out at a server because we were calling it “Israeli” couscous. She said it was an insult to Palestinians. But we are still calling it Israeli couscous. In the Culinary world that is just its name. We really aren’t trying to make any statements, you know.

  5. This is hilarious! I haven’t heard anyone say Israeli Couscous in more than a decade, so I guess in my part of the world the wisdom is to err on the side of caution–it’s just couscous! hahaha! But I do have the same dialogue in my head about many other things. Sometimes I google a phrase just to see how it appears in a newspaper, and I use that as my guide. What a wonderful recipe for a great dish…I have friends who work in the culinary world here in California and I can’t wait to pose this question to them! 🙂

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