Thursday, July 8, 2010

Israeli Couscous Salad with Asparagus, Olives and Feta

I love fresh food. This is the main reason I love spring and summer. Cooking with the seasons is important to me. It's what inspires me to cook and usually dictates what foods and flavors I want to eat. I especially crave salad in the hot weather. Any salad, really, but it has to have vegetables in it. And a good, homemade vinaigrette. And variety. I wouldn't eat mind eating out so much if only I could get someone to make the food I want and make it the way I want. It isn't easy finding a good salad. So many of them are just lettuce and the vegetables are an afterthought. For me, two grape tomatoes and a slice of cucumber does not make a salad. The dish is so much more and can be a way to be as creative and as adventurous as you want.

Take this one for example. This is one of my favorite salads. It's refreshing, it has a lot of flavor and interesting textures. And it is maybe one of a handful of things I have made more than once. As much as I love finding a recipe I love and want to come back to, I am always looking for the next Perfect Recipe. It could be anywhere. In a magazine, on the Internet, or in one of my many cookbooks I should use more often. So I've made this one three or four different times and that should tell you something about what a great recipe it is. It uses Israeli couscous, which is like a small pasta. The reason you should look for this particular ingredient is the texture. It's a toasted pearl of pasta and it has a wonderfully chewy texture that is substantial and holds up well against the other components of the salad. It also calls for asparagus, which is so good in this, but I think green beans, prepared the same way, would be really good, too.

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus, Cucumber and Olive Salad from Bon Appetit, June 2006
Serves 8

1 garlic clove
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 c. low-salt chicken broth
2 c. Israeli couscous (about 6 oz.)

2 c. 1/2" pieces thin asparagus spears, blanched 2 minutes ( or green beans, blanched a few minutes longer)
2 c. 1/2" cubes seeded English cucumber
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olives, halved
2 large green onions, chopped
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish, if desired
1 1/2 c. coarsely crumbled feta cheese ( 7 oz.)

Press garlic clove into a small bowl. Add lemon juice and mustard; whisk in oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Bring broth to a boil in medium saucepan. Mix in couscous. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until couscous is tender and all broth is absorbed, 10 minutes. Transfer couscous to large bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 45 minutes. Mix asparagus (or green beans), cucumber, olives, green onions and 1/4 c. mint leaves into couscous. Add dressing; toss. Gently mix in cheese. Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Garnish with mint sprigs, if using, and serve.

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