Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer cous cous salad

In my last post I mentioned a cous cous salad that is often a part of our summer meals. There really isn't a recipe to follow and there is no fixed list of ingredients. It really is all about finding a balance of flavors and textures. This is probably the most basic version I make, but you can really add pretty much anything that strikes your fantasy or that you need to use up in your fridge.

The three ingredients that are a must in my book are cous cous (of course), tomatoes and cucmbers. The markets are full of great tasting, sweet tomatoes these days and I just can't seem to get enough of them, in any shape or size. Cucumbers add that perfect touch of cool and crunch to the whole ensemble.

I also usually throw in lots of fresh herbs. Anything goes here, but I especially love mint and parsley in this. I often also add basil, chives or coriander, depending on what I have at home. I purposely went out and bought a lovely bunch of parsley to make this and forgot to use it! So this time I only put coriander, mint and chives into it.

The first step, of course, is making your cous cous. Each brand gives different indications regarding quantities and time, but the basic steps usually involve boiling some hot water, pouring it over the cous cous you previously placed in a bowl, adding salt and/or oil and covering it for a few minutes. You then proceed to separate and fluff the grains using a fork and let it cool.

All you really have to do at this point is chop, chop, chop and mince. I don't do anything fancy with the tomatoes like de-seeding, I just throw in the whole lot. Same with the cucumbers, I just peel them. I usually chop everything pretty small so you can get a little taste of everything in one bite. This time I crumbled in some feta into it to give it that extra salty kick.

You could also throw in some sun-dried tomatoes, cold grilled chicken or shrimp; feta and black olives for a Greek version; or toasted pine nuts, raisins and chick peas to give it a Middle Eastern vibe.

It definitely needs olive oil. I used the extra virgin olive oil from olives F's family grows on their land in Tuscany for just such family needs (I am a lucky gal, I know!) and squeezed in copious amounts of fresh lemon juice.

Throw in some salt if the feta is not enough to satisfy your taste buds (it never is for me) and fresh black pepper if you please. Store it in fridge until it is time to eat if possible. Et voilà! An easy, satisfying side dish or main course for those hot summer days the whole family will love.

P.S. Cous cous is usually fluffier and lighter, but the last box I bought somehow turns a bit mushy, despite various attempts of cutting the soaking time to even half the required time. You should manage to easily crumble it with a fork and separate the grains. I guess I just got unlucky this time. In the meantime, however, I came across a bag of whole grain cous cous and will be trying it out soon.

P.P.S. I always end up using less cous cous than I think I will need. There should be more fresh ingredients than cous cous to keep it crunchy, tasty and not too dry. I used to make the cous cous first and mix in the rest after it had cooled. Now I do it the other way around. Do your chopping, mincing and dressing first. Put the ingredients into a big bowl and then stir in the cous cous little by little. This will also help you to avoid using huge amounts of olive oil. Good for your waistline and your wallet!

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