I was in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend and stumbled on a terrific Spanish restaurant on their downtown mall. I was treating myself to a good, big meal after running a half-marathon that morning, and decided on Zocalo, as much for its interesting cocktail menu as for the food choices. The food, drinks, and atmosphere were all so good that I wound up having dinner there two nights in a row. The second night I wasn’t up for such a big meal, so I tried a selection of appetizers and sides: tuna tartare, arugula and beet salad, and green-chili goat cheese couscous.
I’m not a huge fan of couscous, which can range from dull and dry to gummy depending on how it’s prepared, but the combination of green chills and goat cheese captured my imagination. I was sold when the server told me that it was made with large Israeli couscous, which he said absorbed all of the flavors really well. I wasn’t disappointed, and immediately started thinking about how I could recreate this at home.
I decided to keep it simple, but fresh. I had no idea what type of green chills were used in the original recipe, but I have easy access to poblano peppers so I decided to use them. I grilled them until charred, let them steam, removed as much of the translucent skin as possible then purred them. Once the couscous was cooked, I stirred in the purred poblanos and some goat cheese – that’s it. Simple, fast, and really good.
Roast a poblano pepper until charred all over. You can do this on a grill, in an oven (I usually pre-heat it to 425 degrees) or over a gas burner on a stove. Turn frequently and make sure the the poblano is blackened almost all over it – if you stop roasting too soon the skin won’t peel off well. Remove from heat and place in a paper bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap to steam until cool. At this point, the translucent skin should be loose, and just peel as much of it away as you can easily do. It’s not a problem if you don’t get it all.
Puree the pepper using a food processor, blender, or stick blender.
In the meantime, prepare the couscous.
In a medium saucepan heat over medium-high heat until shimmering:
- 1 tsp. olive oil
Add to the pan:
- 1 cup Israeli couscous (at Whole Foods I found this in the bulk bins labelled as Middle-Eastern couscous – you want large grains of couscous)
Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently to toast the couscous, then add to the pan:
- 3/4 cup white wine (I used leftover prosecco, but any white wine that’s not too sweet will do)
- 3/4 cup water
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for about 11 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender (but not mushy). Add extra water if needed (or drain if it’s cooked before all of the water is absorbed).
- pureed poblano pepper
- 2 ounce goat cheese
Serve warm. Re-heated leftovers are fine, but this is better served right away.