Couscous with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Makes 4 Servings
Time: About 15 minutes

There's a traditional method of preparing couscous, which involves moistening the couscous, then resting it, steaming it, moistening it again, salting it, cooling it, steaming it once more, then finally serving it with a stew. Most highly dedicated cooks try that method at least once, but it is a big production. This is a basic couscous recipe, using precooked or instant couscous, in which you can feel free to vary seasonings to your taste. Serve couscous with any moist stew or other dish with plenty of gravy; as a form of pasta – it isn't really a grain at all – it does not have a lot of flavor of its own.

2 1/4 cups Vegetable Stock, store-bought vegetable broth, or water
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup raisins or minced dried fruit such as apricots or figs, or a combination
1/3 cup hot water or stock
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups couscous
Minced fresh parsley or cilantro leaves for garnish

1. In a small saucepan, warm the 2 1/4 cups stock with the cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and pepper while you prepare the other ingredients. Soak the raisins in the 1/3 cup hot water or stock.

2. Place 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet and turn the heat to medium. When it melts, add the pine nuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown lightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. When it melts, add the couscous and cook, stirring, until it is coated with butter, about 1 minute. Strain the stock or water and
add it all at once. Bring to a boil,then turn the heat down to its minimum. Cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the raisins and gently stir them in, along with the pine nuts and remaining butter. Fluff with a fork to break up any lumps. Garnish and serve.

Shopping Tip: 
Whole spices keep longer and, once ground, have more intense flavor than pre-ground spices. Generally speaking, it's best to toast them before grinding-just cook them in a dry skillet until they
become fragrant, a couple of minutes-then grind in a spice or coffee grinder.