Israeli Couscous Salad with Fresh Herbs

Israelis still find it amazing that the humble ptitim, known around the world as Israeli couscous, are considered a gourmet item and served in expensive restaurants. Literally “small flakes” in Hebrew, these toasted pasta flakes were invented in Israel shortly after the Independence War when they substituted for rice in the period of economic hardship. When the crisis was over ptitim remained part of the local food scene, but never managed to shake off their lowly origins. In the minds of most Israelis, ptitim are associated with kindergarten lunches, which is a pity, because they are tasty and versatile. Unlike Italian dry pasta, ptitim are oven toasted, rendering them slightly nutty and very stable—they won't turn mushy even if you cook them for an hour. Just like pasta, cooked cooled ptitim are great for a salad. This one is lovely − lemony and fragrant with oodles of fresh herbs.

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 2 cups ptitim (Israeli couscous)

  • 3 carrots cut into juliennes

  • 3 spring onions, sliced thinly

  • 1 cup black Greek olives

  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped

  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

  • 6 sprigs basil, chopped

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil

  • 3 tablespoons nigella and sesame seeds, toasted

  • Juice and zest from 2 lemons

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

photo: Danya Weiner

Cook the ptitim in a large quantity of salted boiling water (like you would pasta) until tender. Rinse under running water until cool and drain. 

 

Transfer to a bowl and pour on a little oil to prevent the ptitim from sticking. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Adjust seasoning and set aside for at least half an hour before serving.