Recipe of the Week: Israeli Couscous with Caramelized Fennel

There are days when you feel like eating rice, and others where pasta or potatoes are the starch that your body seems to be craving.

But sometimes, you want something in between. I keep couscous in my pantry for days like that, but over the years, I’ve started to prefer Israeli couscous to small-grained Moroccan couscous. The heartier texture of the Israeli-style pearls is exceptionally pleasing to the palate; it’s more overtly pasta-like than traditional couscous, but it still has a toothsome bite.

In this recipe from "The America's Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" ($29.95, Cook's Illustrated), the editors pair the slightly nutty Israeli couscous with just-wilted spinach and fennel that has been cooked long enough to caramelize some of those strong anise notes.

Don’t substitute regular couscous in this recipe or you’ll overcook it when you follow the directions. The method of cooking the fennel and spinach, however, could be paired with any starch of your liking.

Israeli Couscous with Caramelized Fennel and Spinach

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous

Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 fennel bulbs, stalks discarded, bulbs halved, cored and sliced thin

1/2 onion, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

4 oz. (4 cups) baby spinach

3 Tbsp. minced fresh chives

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Stir in couscous and 1 Tbsp. salt and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain couscous, transfer to large bowl, and cover to keep warm.

Wipe now-empty pot dry, add 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil, and place over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add fennel, onion and 1/4 tsp. salt, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened and released their liquid, about 15 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in garlic and lemon zest and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in spinach, cover and let sit until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in couscous, lemon juice, chives, and remaining 1/2 Tbsp. oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

— From "The America's Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" ($29.95, Cook's Illustrated)