Couscous with dried apricots and herbs

couscous with dried apricots and herbs | pamela salzman

We had such a lovely getaway in Palm Springs with the kids this weekend.  My husband, who designs and builds houses, likes to go to a few days of Modernism Week every year and we decided to make a little family trip of it this time.  My kids are exposed to a lot of talk about food because of what I do, but my husband also discusses his business with them, too.  I wouldn’t say they could go out and build a house tomorrow, but they have an understanding of architecture and design.

dry couscous with salt and olive oil with dried apricots and hot liquid

So it was kind of funny to me when my kids would walk into a home on a tour this weekend or a show, and people would be shocked to see them.  “Oh my word!  We have children here!”  The first time I heard this, I figured the kids weren’t welcome.  But I was very wrong.  “How nice to see children appreciate design!”  I was proud of the kids because they were well-behaved and seemingly interested.  And it made me think about how the experience was a little analogous to food and eating.  I always tell my students that part of the process of creating a healthful eater is simply exposing the kids to a wide variety of nutritious food.  Another critical part of the process is modeling good eating habits.  One day it will all click with them and they’ll end up surprising you!

Cover and after 10 minutes it's done

I am flexible with Mr. Picky though.   Sometimes I will make something like this couscous with dried apricots and herbs for dinner, but leave a little plain couscous and apricots for him on the side.  I usually encourage, but often insist, that he at least try the dish with all the herbs and such.  Sometimes he will and sometimes he won’t, but this strategy works well for me since I can accommodate him a little without my having to make a second meal.  And the message that I am sending is that eventually he will eat like the rest of us.

fresh herbs

Mr. Picky happens to like couscous and dried apricots and if he’s really hungry, he’ll eat the herbs and all.  He won’t eat it mixed with the Moroccan chicken I posted on Friday.  He will eat them separately though.  No problem here, although I personally like couscous as an accompaniment to soak up something juicy and saucy.  Other than that, my girls will take leftovers in their lunch boxes with some feta and maybe a little extra lemon juice and olive oil.  Yum!

dry toast almonds couscous with dried apricots and herbs | pamela salzman

Couscous is like a busy person’s dream come true.  You pour really hot water or stock on it with a little salt and perhaps some olive oil and presto!  Ten minutes later you have a nice fluffy side dish.  I know that couscous is processed durum wheat flour and not a whole grain, but there’s still a decent amount of fiber in it and you can also find whole wheat couscous if that’s important to you.  Of course you can also make this recipe with quinoa if you want a gluten-free version which I have done many times.  In fact, I’ve often said to people who haven’t tried quinoa that you can take your favorite couscous dish and sub quinoa.  Only you cook them differently.  But you knew that.   And there are other ways to mix this recipe up — dried cherries or raisins instead of the apricots, pistachios or chopped almonds instead of the sliced almonds, parsley instead of the cilantro or just use all of one herb.  This is an easy recipe to let your personal taste be your guide!

couscous with dried apricots and herbs

Couscous with Dried Apricots and Herbs
  • 1 10-ounce box of couscous (1 ½ cups couscous)
  • ½ cup dried unsulphured apricots, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons unrefined extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups HOT (even boiling) chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup whole almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 2 scallions, green parts only, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  1. Place the couscous, dried apricots, salt and olive oil in a medium bowl and cover with HOT stock. Stir with a fork to combine. Cover and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
  2. Pour lemon juice on top and toss to combine.
  3. Add the almonds, scallions, mint and cilantro to the couscous and toss gently to combine.
Pomegranates are a delicious addition when they are in season (December-February)

Winter fruit salad recipe

Although I’m not 100% strict about it, I do try my best to eat seasonally as well as locally.  This helps to keep our bodies in harmony with nature, and is more healthful for us as well as the planet.  I know, easy for me since I live in Southern California.  It’s true we do have access to such a bounty of wonderful fresh produce all year.  But not even in sunny Southern California do I find locally grown melons and stone fruits in the dead of winter.  You might find a few vendors at local farmer’s markets who sell berries grown in hot houses all year long.  But I haven’t seen any farms with cantaloupes and watermelons in their fields in December.   

Yet people love a good fruit salad for brunch or after dinner and for some reason I don’t see too many fruit salads without watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe and strawberries even at this time of year.  Sure these fruits look lovely together and are easy to cut up, but when was the last time you tasted a fabulous piece of watermelon on Christmas?  It’s time to think outside the fruit salad box and try a combination that is a more natural complement to gingerbread and pumpkin and everything else you’re serving for your holiday brunches.  I’ve been making this delicious fruit salad for several years and I am still obsessed with it. I use pears, apples, pomegranate seeds and dried fruit, but it’s the spiced-infused steeping liquid that takes it over the top.  If you’ve never used star anise, it is amazing.  It imparts a beautiful, floral, licorice flavor to the syrup.  If you can’t find it, just sub a cinnamon stick.

Technically I think this would be considered a fruit compote, but we don’t worry about semantics here.   Whatever you call it it’s easy peasy, and the best part — you guessed it — do ahead!   Which is why this fruit salad is really SO perfect for Christmas morning or any of your holiday brunches.  I have also made it for a more healthful after-dinner dessert option which is always so welcome during a season of cookies and pies and cookies and chocolate and… cookies.  But actually my favorite way to eat it is with yogurt and some sliced almonds — what a scrumptious breakfast or snack that is!

Here’s hoping your Christmas is merry and bright and that you can spend it with the ones you love!

Winter Fruit Salad
Serves: 4-6
  • ¾ cup maple sugar or cane sugar (I used maple sugar in these photos.)
  • 3 star anise or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into slices
  • ½ of a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 4 2-inch long pieces of lemon rind (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 8 dried unsulphured apricots, thinly sliced
  • 4 dried unsulphured figs, thinly sliced
  • Juice of the zested lemon
  • 3 firm Bosc pears or Asian pears
  • 1 firm tart apple
  • Seeds from half a pomegranate
  1. Fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups water. Add the sugar, star anise, ginger, vanilla bean and lemon rind. Bring to a boil, and simmer until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool for just a few minutes, but still hot and then add the dried figs and apricots. Set aside to cool completely.
  2. Peel and core the pears and apple, if desired. Slice thinly crosswise (1/4-inch slices) and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat.
  3. Once the syrup with dried fruit has cooled, pour it over the apples and pears. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next morning, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and transfer it into a serving bowl. You can remove or leave the ginger, vanilla beans, star anise and lemon zest. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve.
Syrup can be made up to two days in advance and kept refrigerated. Salad can be fully prepared and kept refrigerated up to two days. Other dried fruit that works well – dried cherries, raisins, peaches, persimmons