In Praise of Prunes
There are people who slink through the grocery store, hoping nobody will recognize them, when they have to buy this particular ingredient.
Yes, I’m talking about prunes.
It’s their connotation with being a natural laxative and their association with, well, people of a certain senior age, that have done them in.
Yet we all relish juicy summer plums. It’s only when they get dried and renamed prunes that we get the heebie-jeebies.
That’s precisely when their sweetness and flavor concentrate magnificently, though.
So, just get over it. And grab a bag to make “Spiced Pearl Couscous Salad.”
This easy-peasy recipe is from “Salad” (Smith Street Books, 2022), of which I received a review copy.
It’s one of 100 recipes for salads and dressings in this book by Janneke Philippi, a Dutch food stylist and cookbook author.
It will open your eyes to what salads can be with recipes for “Beetroot Leaf Salad with Slow-Cooked Duck Leg and Sweet Mirabelle Plums,” “Salad in A Jacket” (with chicken and lettuce wrapped in a flatbread), “Red Curry Lentil Salad with Chickpeas and Prawns,” and “Ravioli Salad with Rocket and Olive Oil.”
The actual name of this particular salad is really “Spicy Pearl Couscous Salad.” But since it’s not really spicy, I am taking the liberties of renaming it to what I think is the more appropriate “Spiced.”
That’s because there are no chiles or hot sauce in this salad built on a foundation of pearl or Israeli couscous, which is similar but a tad smaller than Lebanese moghrableh. Instead, it gets seasoned with dill, parsley, garlic, cumin, and plenty of fresh orange zest.
Pistachios also get a supporting role. The recipe didn’t call for toasting them, but I did so because I think it brings out their flavor more. And of course, the true star comes in the form of prunes, which are chopped and strewn throughout, adding a sweet, sticky, chewiness in contrast to the crunch of the nuts. The prunes also add an almost molasses-like taste that really plays well with the warmth of the earthy-savory cumin.
Because the herbs and other ingredients are chopped, they cling to the tiny, chewy balls of pasta, ensuring you get a bite of everything in each forkful.
It makes for a vibrant side dish or light lunch most anytime of year. Especially because prunes, unlike their fresh counterparts, are seasonless.
Spiced Pearl Couscous Salad with Orange, Prune, and Pistachio
7 ounces pearl couscous
1 bunch dill
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
4 1/2 ounces prunes
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 3/4 ounces unsalted, peeled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Boil couscous in plenty of salted water for 12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and spread onto a plate to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, finely chop the herbs and cut the prunes into small pieces.
Grate the garlic and orange zest over the couscous. Sprinkle the herbs, prune, cumin and pistachios on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss well.
Season the salad with salt and pepper.
Adapted from “Salad” by Janneke Philippi
More Prune Recipes to Enjoy: Red Wine-Braised Duck Legs with Dried Plums