Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

I need to declare my appreciation for the time change that occurred over the past weekend.  While we may lose an hour of sleep, we gain so much more.  Gone are the days of darkness at 4:30 pm, the kids going stir crazy in the house and when dinner, baths and bedtime seem to come even slower.  Now there is light, spring is in the air and in our house that means outdoor cooking and eating.  My husband is the ultimate grill-er and just loves firing up the barbeque to cook some "man" food (steaks, hamburgers, wings, the list goes on and on).  What this means to me is that I get to prepare side dishes and salads galore and one my absolute favorite spring/summer salads is this Mediterranean Couscous Salad.  If you are not familiar, couscous is just a very small form of pasta that is extremely versatile in how it is served.  I love to use Israeli couscous because it is slightly larger in size and has a softer, chewier texture that pairs extremely well with almost anything.  I take the already yummy couscous and season it, then add some of my favorite vegetables, fresh herbs, spicy arugula and most importantly, feta cheese.  This is all tossed in a bit of Italian dressing and served cold.  It makes an extremely healthy, beautiful salad that works so well as a hearty side dish to any protein.  It could also easily work as a main course by adding some grilled chicken or beef right in it.  Next time you need a simple, delicious salad or side dish for your cookout or grilling party, give this one a shot!

This is what you need:

2 cups dry Couscous (I prefer Israeli, but any kind is fine!)
2 cups Chicken Stock
3/4 cup Grape Tomatoes - sliced
3/4 cup Cucumbers - sliced
2 Green Onions - sliced
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1 cup Arugula (or Spinach)
1/2 cup Feta Cheese
2 Garlic Cloves - minced
1/4 cup Italian Parsley - chopped
1 tbsp Mint - chopped
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp Italian Salad Dressing

This what you do:
Prepare the couscous to the package directions (use the chicken stock instead of water and add the garlic, salt and pepper to the stock) and chop the fresh veggies and herbs.  When the couscous is ready remove from heat and let come to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.  Add the fresh veggies, herbs and feta cheese.  Refriderate and when ready to serve, remove from the refirdgerator and add the arugula and salad dressing.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.  Serve and enjoy!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Cool Down: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

First thing to do is prepare the couscous to the package directions, but here are my tricks to make it extra flavorful.  Use chicken stock instead of water and add a bit of salt, pepper and chopped garlic to the chicken stock as it boils, and you do this in its own pot.  For the actual couscous, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a different pot and toast the couscous over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until it turns golden brown.  Then when the chicken stock boils, add it to the toasted couscous, cover the pot, turn the heat to low and let sit for 12-15 minutes.

Chicken stock with garlic, salt and pepper.
Couscous is getting toasty and yummy.  We do this to deepen the flavor and give more texture. 

Carefully add the boiling chicken stock to the couscous and cook it until all of the moisture has evaporated.  Keep the lid on cook for as long as the package says to.  When it is ready, it will look like this:

Then you take a fork and fluff it all up.

At this point, you can transfer it to your serving bowl.  I taste it now, to make sure the seasoning is on point.

While the couscous is cooling, get the veggies and herbs ready.
This is what I use, but any veggies your prefer would be great.  Red pepper, artichokes, olives and broccoli would all be fantastic subs or additions. 

Add the veggies once the couscous has reached about room temperature.  

The only things that can make this even more beautiful is the addition of Feta cheese and dried cranberries.

Toss and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve or for about 20-30 minutes.  When ready, remove and add the arugula (or spinach if you prefer) and 2-3 tbsp of any Italian dressing you like  Good Seasons is my go-to for literally everything.  Taste and serve!
 Looks like a party.

And that is it!  This is a pasta salad kicked up a few notches, but could not be simpler to prepare.  The flavors are bright, salty, tangy and sweet.  Basically hitting all the notes you want all while being healthy and gorgeous.  Hope you make this and enjoy!