Three of my four high school years were spent in an Israeli school. Of course, one of my biggest struggles was learning the language and communicating with my new friends. Sometimes things got lost in translation—like when I was sent to the market to buy an eggplant. I thought I was so smart and clever, as I used my New York, yeshiva-based Hebrew and asked for tzemach beitzim, literally an “egg plant.” Not surprisingly, I got funny looks and no eggplant. It was frustrating that no one knew what I was talking about, and I had no clue that what I was saying did not make any sense.
Another time I had a language miscommunication was when I slept over at an Israeli friend’s house for the very first time. I was nervous and excited. And in the course of our conversation I told her that I liked coconut. (Or, at least that’s what I thought I had said.) My new friend seemed very happy that I liked coconut and said we could have it for breakfast. I thought that was weird, but so nice of her to do that. Maybe it was an Israeli thing. I was interested in finding out what you did with coconut for breakfast. What exactly would be served?
When I woke up I was anticipating a coconut pudding, or some sort of coconut cookie or cereal. Instead, there was a bowl of clumps of tiny beige pieces, of what I now know is couscous. Couscous! I didn’t quite understand what the problem was, or why she thought this was a good idea for breakfast. Maybe it was coconut-flavored couscous. Or something. Anything, other than what it appeared to be. But no, it was just plain, steamed couscous. The entire family eagerly watched as I tried it, happy to be giving me something that I had said I liked. Something they were able to provide. I remember asking in Hebrew, “This is couscous?” and them replying, “Yes!” But it wasn’t. I knew something was very wrong here, and in the interest of clarifying, I timidly explained that it wasn’t what I had thought. (Of course I said it was very good.) We finally got to the bottom of it when I drew a picture of a coconut, and everyone said “Ah! ko-cous!”
So, feeling very nostalgic, I created this coconut-couscous dish, which is filling and delicious, and makes me laugh every time I have it. And I wonder if my long-ago Israeli classmate remembers the story and laughs as she tells it to her kids too.
Coconut Couscous With Cauliflower
(because, the alliteration!)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Indian-style curry powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 medium cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 4-6 cups)
- 1 cup coconut milk (canned)
- 1.5 cups water
- 2 cups Israeli couscous
- ½ cup flaked sweetened coconut
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
- and rinsed (optional)
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
In a large skillet, saute onion for two minutes until translucent (not browned). Add curry powder and salt and stir for a minute until fragrant. Add raisins and cauliflower and stir to combine. Add coconut milk and water to barely cover ingredients. Add couscous. Stir mixture to combine, and push all ingredients down into the water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until couscous is tender. Stir once or twice to make sure all couscous gets cooked. Add additional water if needed. Keep covered and steam until cauliflower is soft enough to your liking. Stir in coconut, chickpeas and cilantro, and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Enjoy and have a good laugh saying the name of this recipe!
By Rachel Berger