Instant Couscous Improv
All the quinoa talk in yesterday's veggie chat got me hankering for a cold summer salad, and if I couldn't get my hands on those glistening pearls of quinoa, I decided that instant couscous would do the trick just as well.
Made from granular semolina, couscous is a staple of northern African countries, including Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Making couscous by hand is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that involves rubbing semolina wheat into pellets, then repeated drying and steaming until a uniform grain is achieved. Traditionally, it is cooked in a multi-tiered steamer called a couscoussiere, an experience I've yet to have, but I've got my fingers crossed.
For now, I'll take the instant even though traditionalists say it doesn't even come close to the real thing. But I love the pre-cooked stuff because it is so ridiculously easy to pull off a nutritious, satisfying summer salad by the seat of your pants on a weeknight.
While your couscous "cooks" in just-boiled water off the heat -- it's more like a steaming/absorbing process -- you can pull together your salad fixins. The beauty of the couscous salad is that it plays nicely with practically anything you've got in the crisper or in the pantry; it is the ultimate improv queen and can be anything you want it to be.
On a hot and humid eve like last night, my couscous salad came to the refreshing rescue and cooled us off while we sat on the deck and waited for the breeze.
Do you have a couscous salad trick up your sleeve? Share your wizardry in the comments area.
Kim's Ad Hoc Couscous Salad
"Cook" the couscous:
1 ½ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 ½ cups instant couscous
Bring water and salt to a boil. Add couscous, give it a quick stir and turn off heat. Cover pot for at least 10 minutes, to allow water to become absorbed. No peeking!
Remove cover, and with a fork, fluff couscous to avoid clumping. Pour contents into a shallow, wide salad bowl.
While couscous is still somewhat warm, add vinaigrette, salt and pepper for better absorption. (Your favorite bottled vinaigrette is fine here, too, but add gradually to keep goopiness to a minimum.)
Ad hoc vinaigrette: Squeeze two lemons and pour resulting juice over lukewarm couscous. Add ¼ cup olive oil and stir to coat.
Meanwhile, prep salad fixins. Here's what I used last night:
½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
½ medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, both white and green parts, minced
A small handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, picked from stems and chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and thoroughly rinsed
10-12 grape tomatoes, sliced into thirds
About four ounces feta cheese, crumbled
What I didn't have on hand but would have loved (there's always next time): toasted walnuts or pine nuts, red onion, a handful of fresh basil leaves
Add salad fixins to dressed couscous and with a wooden spoon, stir to thoroughly combine. Stop and taste for seasoning. Add more acid, salt and pepper as you see fit. It's ready when you are.
Makes four to six servings -- and keeps well in an airtight container for lunch the next day.
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