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.
Reprinted with permission from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Copyright 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:Serves 6 to 8
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:2 hours and 45 minutes
- 16 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups (250 g) mograbiah
- 1 2/3 cups (400 ml) chicken or vegetable stock
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 1 1/2 cups (250 g) couscous
- 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
- 1 tablespoon nigella seeds
- 3 1/2 ounces (100 g) Labneh
- coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C. Arrange the tomato halves, skin side down, on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours, until the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.
Meanwhile, put the onions in a large pan with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a dark golden color.
Throw the mograbiah into a large pan of boiling salted water (as for cooking pasta). Simmer for 15 minutes, until it is soft but still retains a bite; some varieties might take less time, so check the instructions on the packet. Drain well and rinse under cold water.
In a separate pot, bring the stock to a boil with the saffron and a little salt. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the boiling stock. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for 10 minutes.
Once ready, mix the couscous with a fork or a whisk to get rid of any lumps and to fluff it up. Add the cooked mograbiah, the tomatoes and their juices, the onions and their oil, the tarragon, and half the nigella seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning and oil. It is likely that it will need a fair amount of salt. Allow the dish to come to room temperature. To serve, arrange it gently on a serving plate, place the labneh on top (in balls or spoonfuls), drizzle with the remaining oil, and finish with the rest of the nigella seeds.