March 22, 2010
I have a new pasta obsession: Israeli couscous. Like its smaller cousin, it is a round pasta, but its diameter is nearly twice the size of regular couscous. The little balls are much chewier than regular couscous and hold up better to sauces even in a cold salad—no mush. They remind me a little of tapioca balls and provide that same satisfying texture and bite that tapioca adds to boba, or bubble, tea.
Known in Israel as ptitim, Israeli couscous is one of the few uniquely Israeli dishes. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, contacted a large food manufacturer and asked that it find a way to produce a whole wheat substitute for rice. The first ptitim were rice shaped and are commonly know by their nickname, “Ben-Gurion Rice.” The company next produced a round ptitim, which we now call Israeli couscous outside of Israel. Unlike most pasta, which is dried, Israeli couscous is baked in a oven, giving it a slight toasty flavor.
The same article also notes that ptitim is mostly a children’s food in Israel. The demand even inspired production of ptitim in the shapes of stars, rings and hearts (kind of like macaroni and cheese here).
In the United States and other countries, Israeli couscous is a new trend in restaurants, which is where I first encountered it. But the couscous is easy to make at home. Israeli couscous is quick to prepare—takes about six minutes—because of its small size. It also tends to clump together less than regular couscous. I’ve prepared what I thought would be a great batch of regular couscous only to come back five minutes later and find it all stuck together. Epicurious has a recipe for couscous with pine nuts and parsley that I’m going to try with the box I just bought from Trader Joe’s. Either that or I’ll wait until zucchini, asparagus and tomato come in season and make Bobby Flay’s couscous with grilled summer vegetables.
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