19 January 2011

Wild mushroom Israeli couscous "risotto"

I love risotto. And when I say love, I mean LOVE! I think that the rich, creamy Italian rice dish is the ultimate comfort food and I could probably eat it every day. Some people find the standing over the stove and constant stirring required to make a risotto to be annoying, but I find it an oddly comforting thing to do at the end of a long day. Why veg in front of the TV when I could be making a risotto? Just kidding of course, I do plenty of vegging in front of the TV too! But anyway, I love all kinds of risotto...from risotto milanese (with saffron) to a risotto primavera with plenty of spring vegetables to a hearty winter risotto with butternut squash or pumpkin...bring them all on! My favorite though is risotto with wild mushrooms. And tonight I decided to make it with Israeli couscous instead of the traditional arborio rice...

What is Israeli couscous? Also known as pearl couscous, ptitim (in Hebrew) or maftoul (in Arabic), Israeli couscous, made of semolina wheat flour and roasted in the oven, is nothing like the regular semolina-based variety. It is apparently considered to be a children's food in Israel, which might explain why I didn't see it anywhere when I travelled to Israel and Palestine a few years ago. But the round pearl-shaped grains have become pretty trendy in the food world as of late, so I decided to attempt my wild mushroom "risotto" with some Trader Joe's brand Israeli couscous brought to us by The Displaced Cook on her last trip to Paris .

Let me tell you, the result was amazing! The chewy texture of the couscous grains (similar to that of orzo) was PERFECT in the "risotto" and contrasted really well with the mixture of wild mushrooms that I used (a blend of oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms, shitakes, porcinis and chanterelles). And best of all, Israeli couscous cooks much faster than the arborio rice used in traditional risotto, so while you do spend some time at the stove stirring, it's a much faster process (only about 10-12 minutes)!

As is the case with all of the risottos I make, I added a teaspoon of my "secret" ingredient, garlic and herb flavored Boursin (the cream cheese) at the end. I say "secret" because Luis, to my unending dismay, doesn't like cheese. He's from Portugal, a country with a lot of good cheese, and has been living in France a.k.a. THE land of cheese for the last 16 years, but he still can't get down with le fromage (unless on hamburgers or pizza). Nevermind though, I do...shhh...sneak mild versions of it into various things I make, including this "risotto". He'll never know (well, unless he reads this)!

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 cup Israeli couscous
1/2 cup dry white wine
300 grams assorted wild mushrooms
3-3 1/2 cups vegetable broth, warmed
1 teaspoon garlic and herb flavored Boursin or other cream cheese  
Chopped parsley, for garnish

1. Heat olive oil over low to medium heat in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Add the sprig of thyme.

2. Add the couscous and saute until a light golden color is obtained. Pour in the wine (I used a 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux that we had in the fridge) and cook until the wine evaporates.

3. Toss in the mushrooms and saute for a couple of minutes.

4. Add 1 cup of broth and stir well. Once most of the liquid is absorbed, continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently in between.
5. Turn off the heat and add the Boursin/cream cheese. Stir well.

6. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley.


  1. Mmmm! Mushrooms! Israeli couscous and Boursin! OMG!

  2. Interesting 'risotto', I have never heard about such couscous before.. I'm not sure I have ever seen or tried it either :)

  3. Ramya, you continue to amaze me! I can't wait to try this :)

  4. How'd I miss this? This looks absolutely gorgeous! I hope to find this couscous here. Yum! Wonder if Trader Joes will ship here if not hehe

  5. I'm with you! I love risotto, of any kind, and make it quite often, and I love Israeli couscous which you cannot get in our local food market, but Whole Foods Market carries it.

    I have never made a risotto out of it, but love your creation, and of course with the mushrooms, and the Boursin cheese. Yummm!!!

  6. Israeli couscous is also called "mhammsa" in Tunisia and you can find it in Paris, in Tunisian shops in (Belleville for instance).

  7. ... You can purchase it from this e-shop :

  8. @Anonymous - Thanks very much for your tips on where to find Israeli couscous in Paris! I will look for it the next time that I go to Belleville.