While it's not always true, sometimes good things are worth the wait. I often times have an ingredient at home that I'm dying to use. Maybe because it's I've been waiting months for it to be in season, or because I had it at a restaurant, or because it's new to me and I want to play with it. Other times it's something that I love that I just don't see being used often enough. That's exactly what happened months ago when I realized that I loved Israeli couscous, but rarely saw it in use. I'd occasionally see it pop up under a flank steak or lamb shank, but otherwise it was pretty much absent from any menu. So, I took matters into my own hands and headed over to the Greek spice shop that hides in the shadow of Port Authority. Inside were grains, spices and beans sold by the pound at very affordable prices. After scooping a few pounds of Israeli couscous into a brown paper bag I paid for my purchase and happily headed home.
For months the bag sat on my pantry shelf, looming over me and begging to be used. Try as I might to work it into the many recipes I make a week, it never seemed to make the cut, and I suddenly understood why I wasn't seeing much of it elsewhere either. Fortunately, I never allowed myself to forget about it, because all I needed was the right inspiration to come up with an idea. Flipping through a few back issues of Real Simple, I came across a story about easy dinners. One of them was a lemony shrimp dish with white beans over traditional couscous. It was the perfect dish to serve over Israeli couscous, and just like that, I'd found a great use for my secret ingredient. The one thing I knew I had to do was to add a little more zip and flavor to the Israeli couscous. While I do like it plain, simply salted and drizzled with olive oil, the shrimp and beans were in such a light and simple sauce (lemon butter sauce), that I wanted something that would bring added flavor to the dish and not just come off as a bland carb component. So, I added a little saffron to the water I cooked the couscous in to give it that little extra Mediterranean flair and flavor. It also gave it a gorgeous amber hue that looked great against the coral shrimp and pale beans.
The dish wasn't quite done in 20 minutes as promised (those fresh jumbo shrimp weren't going to peel themselves), but it certainly was very fast in light of how much you get for the 30 minutes or so it actually takes to prepare. It's super well rounded, very tasty, and great to make for company. Not to mention, it's a very light and complete meal that does a great job of ushering in warmer weather (I can totally imagine eating this outside with a glass of great white wine). I switched up a few other minor things, like using less scallions (4 seemed excessive for the portion) and adding a little olive oil to the butter to keep it from burning, and also to use a little less butter. Everything else was great, and the dish stands to become a new staple for me. The beans were a great idea, and a great bit of added protein and sweetness. I could even see the dish working with other types of beans, even black beans or another legume like chick peas. You could dress it up a number of ways, maybe by adding fresh tomatoes in the summer and a little white wine in the sauce. Olives or capers would add a tasty bit of sour bite, too, not to mention what anchovies would add to the simple butter sauce. In the end, it was more than worth the wait for my couscous to finally flourish into the perfect, easy dish. Hopefully others will have the same epiphany, and in the meantime, I'll keep using this wonderful ingredient as much as possible. Here's what I ended up doing:
Lemon-Butter Shrimp with White Beans and Saffron Scented Israeli Couscous
1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
3 cups of water
3-4 strands of saffron
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 lb medium or jumbo shrimp, peeled
1 15.5 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and add Israeli couscous and saffron. Cook uncovered until couscous is done (soft but still al dente), about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat butter, olive oil, garlic and scallions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 30 seconds, then add shrimp and cook until pink and done, about 2 minutes. Add beans, lemon juice, and parsley, season everything with salt and pepper to taste, tossing to combine. Cook until warmed through, about 1 minute.
3. Drain couscous (you can reserve the liquid for a soup, rice or regular couscous) and plate, topping with shrimp and bean mixture. Enjoy!