Two Years Ago: Jewels of Spring
This is a delicious salad that could be either a great side for grilled meats, a stand-alone vegetarian entree, or a more substantial main-dish salad with the addition of some cooked turkey, chicken or shrimp. The original recipe that came from Giada de Laurentiis called for cooking the couscous first, then frying it in olive oil. I like the idea of adding some toastiness to the couscous, but frying? Seriously, I doubt Giada eats anything fried because she looks like she weighs about 90 pounds sopping wet. I modified the recipe to toast the couscous in a dry skillet before cooking it and was very happy with the result. It's probably not quite as crunchy as fried couscous, but I just can't imagine all that oil in a nice healthy salad. Just be careful when you're toasting the dry couscous, because it can go from toasted to burned in about 2 seconds. Don't take your eyes off it, and stir almost continuously until it's a nice medium golden brown.
In addition to the toasted couscous, the salad contains sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and ricotta salata (or feta) cheese. Ricotta salata is basically the Italian version of feta - a firm, mild and salty cheese. Ricotta salata can be hard to find, so a block of feta is an easy substitute. This is a nice refreshing salad on its own, but you could also add nuts, olives, or anything else you want.
You can use dry or oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, whichever you prefer. I tried working with the dry version but I find them a little too chewy for my preference, so I use oil-packed. If you use oil-packed tomatoes, don't throw away the oil! It's full of flavor and can be used for vinaigrettes, cooking eggs, drizzled on sandwiches, making paella, or any manner of other dishes. For this recipe, I used half and half regular olive oil and sun-dried tomato oil for the vinaigrette to give a little more tomato flavor without it becoming overwhelming.
This is a good salad for serving outdoors because it doesn't contain anything like mayonnaise that could spoil. Think about it for your next grilling party or picnic.
Toasted Couscous Salad
1 ¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 ¼ cups couscous
4 ounces feta or ricotta salata cheese, cut into ½” pieces
½ English cucumber, seeds removed and cut into ½” pieces
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (may substitute half from jar of oil-packed tomatoes)
Zest and juice of ½ large lemon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a non-stick skillet, toast the couscous 3-5 minutes until browned, watching very closely and stirring almost constantly to avoid burning the couscous. Add the broth and stir, cook one minute, cover and place off the heat for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, place the couscous in a medium bowl and add the Parmesan, toss to combine. Let cool.
While the couscous is cooling, make the vinaigrette by whisking together all the ingredients.
When the couscous is cooled, and the feta or ricotta salata, cucumber, tomatoes, and fresh basil. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine everything.