Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
The meal itself wasn’t supposed to be anything out of the ordinary. But when you’re in a setting as gorgeous as Provence, with cicadas buzzing and a small swimming pool close by, the best food shines in its surroundings seemingly without effort. A bowl of chilled couscous, stirred up in the home kitchen minutes before, burst with flavors of ripe tomato, feta cheese, green onion and herbs. Years later, I'm still making the recipe at home.
In this version, I use basil and sage (the sage lends a dusky, weightier flavor, which I like in this mix), but mint can be swapped in if you prefer. When you're shopping, top-quality, just-picked, so-good-they're-almost-like-candy cherry tomatoes make a big difference here; their sweetness really comes through in this dish, so don't settle for any flavorless supermarket tomatoes.
I tried a light-bodied Pinot Grigio first with the couscous, trying to avoid a bias toward that ubiquitous salmon-hued wine that appears every time you sit down in Provence. It was pleasant, with notes of white cherry on the nose and a creamy texture, but the wine became overripe and almost waxy next to the acidity of the tomatoes and the onion flavor.
After a certain point, why fight what's natural? A Grenache-based rosé blend from Aix-en-Provence had the fuller body and fresh acidity to greet the couscous' mélange of flavors with good grace. Notes of stone fruit and faint raspberry slid into a bright finish that lingered longer than I expected, asking for another pour.
Pair with a Provençal rosé such as Provence Wine Maker Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Rosé Benji 2017 (87 points, $15).
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup uncooked couscous
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sage, minced
- 1 tablespoon basil, minced
- 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cucumber, diced
- 1/4 cup green onions, diced
- 1 can garbanzo beans
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1. In a medium saucepan, bring water, butter and pinch of salt to a boil. Add couscous, stirring quickly. Remove from heat, transfer the couscous to a bowl, cover and let sit for 4 or 5 minutes. (This prevents the couscous from overcooking in the hot pan.) Move the covered bowl to the fridge to chill while you continue the rest of the food prep, as the dish is best enjoyed cool.
2. Cut up the herbs and vegetables. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sage and basil.
3. Take the couscous out of the fridge, fluff with a fork and stir in tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, garbanzo beans and feta cheese. Add the lemon–olive oil mix, stir and either chill further or serve immediately. Serves 4.