Add Israeli couscous to your summer salad repertoire

Summer is the best season for meatless meals, and grain-based salads are my favorite choice for a hot weather main dish. My go-to favorite lately has been Israeli couscous, aka “pearl couscous”. Technically it’s a pasta, not an actual grain. The tiny pearl-shaped pieces are made from a flour dough which is pressed through an extruder mold, and then toasted and dried.

Pear couscous is cooked in water, like rice. The cooked couscous holds its shape and has a slightly chewy texture, ideal for a summer salad. I don’t tend to use recipes so much as a general guide: one from Column A, 3 from column B, etc. Here’s what I did this time:

  • 1 box Israeli couscous, which measured 1-3/4 cups dry.
  • 1/4 cup oil, preferably quality EVO
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil
  • 2 cups washed and roughly chopped kale leaves
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 3 TB minced chives
  • 3 TB minced fresh oregano, or 2-3 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped mild green olives
  • 2 oz slices of hard cheese (Manchego, Parmesan, ..)
  • salt to taste

Procedure

  1. To cook one whole box, bring 2-3/4 cups water to a boil. Add the couscous, reduce the heat and simmer until the pearls are cooked al dente, still holding their shape. Drain through a sieve and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Put into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Fluff the couscous with a fork and mix in the oil, stirring to break up clumps and distribute the oil. Set the couscous aside, or refrigerate to cool it off before adding the vegetables.
  3. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice to the bowl; stir.
  4. Chop all the vegetables and mix into the couscous.
  5. Slice the cheese with a cheese slicer. Slices should be very thin. Break them up slightly and mix carefully into the salad.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  7. Add more olive oil if you feel it’s necessary. OPTIONAL: if you’ve got truffle oil around, add 1-2 tsp.

I’d serve this with a tossed green salad or a chunky raw vegetable salad and some lovely rustic bread or warmed pitas.

Variations

Why did I use those ingredients? That’s what I had around. You can change it up with different choices:

  • toasted walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds
  • minced fresh basil (or use half mint)
  • shallots or red onion instead of chives
  • chopped fresh cherry or grape tomatoes
  • a drizzle of toasted sesame oil instead of truffle oil
  • the grated zest of one lemon (this is a really nice addition)

This salad is vegetarian, but you could make it vegan by leaving out the cheese. Of course, that reduces the protein content. You could make up for that a bit by adding more seeds or nuts. Toasted sunflower seeds or chopped pecans would work well. A higher protein option would be soy nuts, chopped up a bit.

History

Israeli couscous has an interesting origin story. It was developed in Israel in the 1950’s as a rice substitute. It was called “Ptitim,” and the grains were shaped more like rice. Now the pearl-shaped couscous is widely available. You can find plenty of other ideas for using it on the internet, hot and cold, sweet and savory. I definitely recommend trying it out.

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.