Monday, May 16, 2011

Recipe for Whole Wheat Couscous with Saffron and Onions

Plain Couscous can be a little ho-hum, but this Whole Wheat Couscous with Saffron and Onion is delicious.

I was a slow to gain an appreciation for couscous, but after my neighbor Nancy introduced me to Whole Wheat Couscous it's something I find myself thinking of much more frequently when I need a quick whole-grain side dish.  I've enjoyed it in recipes like Whole Wheat Couscous with Green Onions and Parmesan and Whole Wheat Couscous Salad with Persimmons, Grapes, Green Onion, Mint, and Pine Nuts.  Do you see the common theme here with both those recipes using pine nuts?  I'm a firm believer that everything tastes good with pine nuts, and I found myself thinking that some pine nuts sprinkled on top would make a great addition to this recipe as well!  But even if you skip the pine nuts, this whole wheat couscous with saffron and onions was a lovely side dish for some fish cooked on the grill.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but a tiny amount adds a lot of flavor. This recipe only uses 1/8 tsp. crushed saffron.

The technique of adding the saffron to the olive oil/butter before you saute the onions was a new one for me.  Cook the onions just until they're barely starting to brown.

The recipe called for 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 cup water, but I used a can of reduced-sodium chicken broth and added a little water to make 2 cups.  Add this to the onions and bring to a boil.

As soon as the broth is boiling, stir in the couscous.

Cover the pan and let sit 5-6 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Fluff couscous with a fork and serve hot, garnished with parsley or toasted pine nuts if desired.

Whole Wheat Couscous with Saffron and Onions
(Makes 4 side-dish servings, recipe adapted slightly from The Sunset Cookbook.)

2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/8 tsp. crushed saffron threads
1 large onion, cut into half-moon slices
1 tsp. salt (or less, especially if you're not using reduced-sodium chicken broth)
1 can (14.5 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth, plus enough water to make 2 cups total
1 pkg. (10 oz.) whole wheat couscous
chopped fresh parsley or toasted pine nuts to garnish, optional

In a small frying pan with high sides and a tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil and melt the butter. Add the crushed saffron threads and cook over medium heat 1 minute, stirring. Add the onion and salt and cook until onions are barely starting to brown, about 7-8 minutes. Break onion slices apart with a turner while they cook.

When onions are done, add chicken brother/water and bring to a boil. As soon as it is boiling stir in couscous, turn off head, cover pan with tight-fitting lid, and let it sit 5-6 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Fluff couscous with a fork and serve hot, garnished with chopped parsley or toasted pine nuts if desired. This will keep in the fridge for several days and can be quickly reheated in the microwave.

South Beach Suggestions:
Whole wheat couscous would be approved for phase 2 or 3 of the  South Beach Diet.  Butter is not recommended for South Beach, and I reduced the 3 tablespoons of butter in the original recipe to 1 tablespoon, which makes less than 1 tsp. of butter per serving.  I like having a tiny bit of butter in this for flavor, but you could certainly use 3 tablespoons of olive oil if you prefer and I'm sure it would still be delicious. 

More Tasty Ideas with Couscous:
(Recipes from other blogs not always South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Whole Wheat Couscous with Green Onions and Parmesan from Kalyn's Kitchen 
Whole Wheat Couscous Salad with Persimmons, Grapes, Green Onion, Mint, and Pine Nuts from Kalyn's Kitchen 
Curried Apple Couscous from 101 Cookbooks
Whole Wheat Couscous Tabbouleh Salad from Sarah's Cucina Bella
Whole Wheat Couscous with Apricots and Pistachios from Eat This
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More to Chew On:


  1. I want to cook with saffron more. I haven't really experimented with in in the kitchen much. I know I love the saffron rice that they serve at Gourmandise Bakery with the Beef Bourguignon.

  2. Becky, I do think it's an acquired taste, but I do think you have already acquired it!

  3. Sounds absolutely delightful, Kalyn. Nobody loves couscous or saffron as much as I do so I'm totally loving this.

  4. Oh, my goodness, I can taste this! I can have couscous again - for a time it seemed I had an issue with gluten, but I guess not. But I'm still careful with wheat.

  5. Nisrine, thanks! (And I consider that to be high praise from you!)

    Mimi, glad to hear that you are doing okay with the gluten. That would be a real challenge; I admire people who just deal with it and find other things to eat.

  6. Whole wheat couscous has definitely grown on me as being one of my favorite pastas! (I cooks in 5 minutes!) I love this pilaf-esque dish you've made with it! That saffron must add such a great flavor!

  7. Yum! Couscous and saffron - delicious. I agree that without added herbs and spices, couscous can be kind of blah. I'm also a huge lover of whole wheat couscous :) Thanks for sharing!

  8. Joanne, the 5 minute cooking time is definitely a plus!

    WGFoodie, thanks! This was a nice way to add a little pizazz to the whole wheat couscoous.

  9. The photo of the onions sauteing in butter, oil and saffron makes me want to stick my fork right in. What a beautiful color!

  10. Thanks Dara. I loved the onions in this; could even cook them a bit longer for more "caramelized" onions.

  11. I haven't had any couscous for quite some time now and this dish looks very good. I could devour this as a complete meal on its own and not just a side dish. LOL :) This recipe sure has a spot in my weight management program. Will be trying this very soon. Thanks! :)

  12. Jenn, glad to hear it appeals to you!

  13. Ok I am really new to this cooking healthy thing and branching out can be very scary. I don't mean to ask a dumb question but what does "Saffron" taste like? I have never heard of it or even tried it.

  14. Jolene, I'm not sure I can describe the taste of saffron, it's very unique. It's also very expensive; if you've never had it before I would recommend trying this couscous recipe instead.


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