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How about a sweet-salty side dish?

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The taste of couscous is very versatile, in that it doesn't have any more flavor than other pasta dishes. It will absorb sauces and broth nicely, and it has an advantage that may make you consider keeping it in the pantry or freezer at all times: couscous is amazingly easy and fast to make.

The basic procedure for couscous is to bring the correct quantity of water to a boil and then add the couscous. Take the pan off the heat, cover it and let it sit for five-6 minutes. That's it!

When your couscous has absorbed the water (or broth) you turn it into a serving dish and fluff it with a fork. When it is fluffy it is ready to eat, but you can add some ingredients to jazz it up. There is a limitless supply of ideas and ingredients, so let your taste be your guide.

The recipe below will give you a sweet, nutty side dish that goes well with things like roasted chicken or lamb. In fact, lamb and couscous are a classic Middle Eastern combination that goes back centuries. Try the dish below, after you get some Arizona pistachios at Safeway or our health-oriented stores. You will also need dried apricots for this recipe.

COUSCOUS WITH APRICOTS AND PISTACHIOS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped organic onion
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed organic lemon juice
1 10-ounce box of organic couscous, about 1-1/3 cups
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup shelled raw organic pistachios (if they are roasted, skip the toasting step below)
10 dried organic apricots, chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Optional: 2 teaspoons harissa, prepared or homemade
2 cups water

Place the chopped onion in a small bowl. Pour the lemon juice over the onions, set aside and let the onions soak in the lemon juice.

Toast the pistachios in a small pan on medium-high heat until lightly browned and fragrant. (Watch the pistachios closely because all nuts can burn quickly if you don't pay attention.) Remove from the heat and transfer them to a small bowl to cool.

Put the water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and one teaspoon of salt to the water. Once the salt dissolves, stir in the couscous, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Move the pot off the hot burner and let the couscous steam, covered, for 5-6 minutes.

Scoop out the couscous into a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Stir in the harissa, if using. Stir in the pistachios, chopped apricots and parsley. Stir in the red onion and lemon juice. Add one more tablespoon of olive oil, stir well and add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Harissa is a Middle Eastern hot sauce, but its consistency is more like a paste. You can find it in local stores, or in the Spice Barn in Tucson. If you wish, you can locate many recipes for it online as well.

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