One of the things that is so great about traveling is that you get the opportunity to visit different cultures and try different types of cuisine. Whether it’s fresh pasta from Italy or genuine Chinese food from China, regions around the world offer a variety of flavors and textures in food that most people won’t have the opportunity to try (unless the make trips overseas much, much more affordable.) In the meantime, while we’re saving our pennies towards airfare, there are companies, like Near East, who strive to bring the exotic flavors to us. Through the Near East product line, the flavors of the Mediterranean can be cooked and eaten right in the cost-effective location of our own kitchen.
Founded in 1962 by Armenian immigrants George and Hannah Kalajian, Near East has grown from Hannah’s home made rice pilaf mix to a line of 30 different products, ranging from couscous to falafel. Many of them come in a variety of flavors as well. Using only high quality ingredients, their products are 100% natural without any artificial ingredients, preservatives or flavors and most are certified Kosher.
We had the opportunity to try the Near East Parmesan Couscous. In addition to Parmesan, the other Near East Couscous flavors include Broccoli & Cheese, Tomato Lentil, Herbed Chicken and others for a total of 13 different flavors to choose from.
The first step to trying the Near East Parmesan Couscous was to find a recipe to use. While couscous can be served plain, I learned from Wikipedia that couscous is most often served under a meat or a vegetable stew, so I wanted something that had the more authentic feel to it. Fortunately, Near East has a great recipe section on their website, which is hands down one of the easiest recipes section I’ve ever used. You simply start with the product type, then it drills down into the flavor, type of cuisine and main ingredient. I decided to go for the Classic Garden Couscous, which is the recipe on the box and also had a five-star rating on the website.
The Classic Garden Couscous was a very easy dish to make. It’s a one skillet dish – first by cooking the chicken and garlic in a skillet, then adding water, cooking wine, and the spice sack that comes in the Couscous box, then finally adding the broccoli and the couscous. Pouring it out of the box, the couscous looks like little pasta pellets. In fact, they are actually “spherical granules made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour.” Regardless, this is the first time cooking with couscous, so I wasn’t sure what to expect or how it would cook up.
After letting the couscous stand for 10 minutes, it was ready to serve and eat.
As I mentioned, this was the first time preparing couscous, so there was an uncertainty about how my Classic Garden Couscous would taste. I’m happy to say that this dish was a success! The texture is somewhat similar to grits – pseudo-soft with some texture to it. The flavor of the couscous itself was on the milder side, which really allowed the flavors of the other ingredients to shine. I kind of picture it as the Mediterranean version of rice – it’s the base foundation of the meal and then you build the additional flavors on top of it. One lesson learned was that I should’ve left the cheese in the recipe. I’m not a big feta cheese fan, so I omitted that, but I’m certain that if I had kept it in the recipe, or even used some Parmesan cheese while preparing, it would’ve taken the couscous to a whole new level.
Near East has just launched a special Around the World in 5 Minutes online community at www.aroundtheworldin5.com. The Around the World in 5 Minutes community is currently running a special sweepstakes, with the opportunity to win a grand prize of a Mediterranean Culinary Adventure Cruise! In addition to registering for the sweepstakes, you can earn extra entries by watching the featured recipe videos by Chef Peter Bowen and answer Trivia Questions for that week’s recipe. Each featured recipe showcases a specific Near East ingredient and the video shows Chef Bowen creating the recipe, providing instruction and special tips as he prepares the dish. There’s also the opportunity for users to share their own recipe variations.
If you’re looking to add some new flavors to your menu or to try food from other cultures, then check out the Near East product line. Make sure you enter their Around the World in 5 Minutes Sweepstakes so you’ll have the chance to actually VISIT the countries where this delicious food originated. Near East products are available in stores nationwide. To stay up to date on the latest news and to follow Chef Peter Bowen as he shares his new Near East recipes, visit www.neareast.com and the Near East Community page where you can follow them on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, their blog and subscribe for the e-newsletter (which also earns you an extra entry into the sweepstakes!)
Disclaimer: This post consists of my (and/or fellow tester) opinions only. No compensation was given for this review/giveaway. I did receive free Near East products from the manufacturer or representing PR agency to use and test for the purposes of this review. This did not affect the outcome of this review.