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Couscous and Mograbiah With Oven-Dried Tomatoes From 'Ottolenghi'

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[Photograph: Richard Learoyd]

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's cafe, Ottolenghi, serves a multitude of grain-based salads. Many are rice, barley, or couscous-based. This version in their recently re-released cookbook, however, stood out for its inclusion of mograbiah, a Middle Eastern semolina pasta much like Israeli couscous or Sardinian fregola. Its large grains add a pop of texture—just a little chewy, but mostly tender and soft. Mixed with sweet oven-dried tomatoes, soft caramelized onions, and bright goat-cheese labneh, the salad is far more memorable than its demure appearance may imply.

Why I picked this recipe: Oven-dried tomatoes are one of my weaknesses. Couscous is another.

What worked: While the blend of sweet and savory flavors here was delightful, the best part of this dish was the intricate mixture of texture: soft, slightly juicy tomatoes meet fluffy couscous, faintly chewy mograbiah, and crunchy seeds.

What didn't: My tomatoes were on the extra-large side of large, so they needed an extra 45 minutes in the oven to lose most of their moisture. Don't be afraid to salt aggressively here, either.

Suggested tweaks: If you can't find nigella seeds, you can substitute sesame seeds, cumin seeds, celery seeds, or a combination (I used the latter). Fregola and Israeli couscous both make good substitutes for the mograbiah; if you can't find either, you can double up on the couscous. And if you don't have the patience to drain the labneh (and can't find it in stores), fresh goat cheese would make a fine stand-in.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Ottolenghi to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. Follow her @KateHWiliams.

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