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Israeli couscous is a large-caliber relative of its Arab cousin, a relative newcomer to these shores.

Like regular couscous, it's actually a wheat pasta, but this one is the size of baby peas when cooked. Its shape has lent itself to another name -- it is called "pearl couscous" in some packaging.

It can be sauced like pasta, but is usually offered as a base for vegetarian or meat stews, or used as a building block in a pilaf dish. It also is employed in salads, adding slightly chewy body to crunchy foliage and crisp vegetables.

In Israel, the couscous, called ptitim, is often considered a children's dish, served plain or flavored with caramelized onion and tomato.

Feed the need: Israeli couscous was invented in Israel as a substitute for rice. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asked Osem, a food manufacturer, to develop a replacement as food shortages left rice-favoring Israelis hungry. It's still known as "Ben-Gurion's rice" to some Israelis.

Here, Israeli couscous serves as the backbone of a salad, in a recipe shared by Nancy Parisi, The News' Cook of the Month in March 2011. The just-cooked couscous is heaped on vegetables diced small, gently steaming them before the whole dish is stirred and seasoned.

>Nancy Parisi's Couscous Vegetable Salad

For couscous:

1 1/2 cups uncooked Israeli or pearl couscous

1 7/8 cups water

1 pinch salt

For salad:

1 small red onion

1 small yellow squash

1 small zucchini

1 small red pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice of one lemon or orange

3/4 pound feta cheese

Boil water in a 1 quart saucepan. Add uncooked couscous to boiling water. Reduce heat, give it a stir, and cover the pot. Let the couscous simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

While grain is cooking, dice vegetables into 1/4 -inch pieces.

Uncover the pot and examine the couscous. You should be able to fluff it with a fork and see no water in the pan when it's fully cooked.

Toss diced vegetables in bowl or serving platter. When couscous is fully cooked, scoop it over the top of the vegetables, and let sit for a few minutes, covered. Do not mix the couscous with the vegetables; they are steaming.

After 2 minutes, gently mix the vegetables and couscous. Drizzle olive oil and lemon or orange juice over the top and continue mixing. Then top salad with crumbled feta cheese.

Season with freshly ground pepper if desired, and salt, though the cheese should provide enough salty flavor.

Serve as a side dish, or a main dish with tossed green salad. Serves 4.

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com