Saturday, February 10, 2018

Recipe of the month: Greek Pearl Couscous Salad


If you have been following my culinary exploits on Facebook or Instagram since the start of this year, chances are that you will be aware that I am heavily into salads at the moment. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me! 😛  From a self-confessed salad non-enthusiast to someone who now looks forward to putting together new and interesting salads every week, I've been making considerable strides 😎

See, the deal with me is, on principle, I refuse to eat food that is bland and boring. So if you hand me a nondescript 'garden salad', the only reaction you will get out of me is an eye roll. A bowlful of leaves and raw veggies just doesn't cut it for me. If I eat a salad in place of a main meal, it has to be wholesome, flavourful and most importantly, keep me satiated. If eating a measly salad for lunch gets me feeling hungry again within the next 2 hours and forces me to mindlessly binge on anything I lay my eyes on, then I don't really see the point. For me a salad has to have a good balance of textures and flavours. It ought to consist of some kind of whole grain, a protein, greens, vegetables, pulses, either fresh or dried fruit, nuts, herbs, cheese and an absolute killer salad dressing. Most run-of-the-mill salads I have come across, don't check all the boxes and hence my abiding disdain for them. The only time I remember developing an affinity to salads was on a holiday to Vietnam several years ago. I was completely blown away by the unique variety that was on offer at every restaurant we went to. I was inspired by the experience but not sufficiently enough to get off my backside and do something about it. 

You know, I am all for eating healthy food but I am utterly incapable of doing so all the time. You got to live a little right? 😆  But that being said, as I've been getting older (and wiser!), I realize that I can't get away with eating absolutely everything I want to the way I used to in my 20s. Not to mention, I'm still carrying an unmentionable amount of holiday weight that I need to shed at any cost! No but on a serious note, I obviously understand the importance of eating consciously and setting a good example for my kids.


It is a known fact that salad is firmly in fashion right now. Although I had been aware of the salad culture evolving over the last decade and the emerging trend of summer rolls and buddha bowls, I never pretended to understand it thus far. So for this year's new year resolution, I decided to put an end to my salad bigotry once in for all. 

It has turned out to be much easier than I expected. I've been doing good so far. I really have. Every Thursday I assemble a colorful and nutritious buddha bowl for me and the husband to take to work and every Friday I pack an interesting and wholesome salad. What is more shocking to me than myself eating salad for lunch is my husband doing it as well 😂

I won't lie to you - I put in a lot of effort into some of these healthy eating endeavors but I can honestly say that it is totally worth it. Modesty aside, whatever I've made so far has tasted pretty great and I haven't been snacking like how I thought I would. Along with regular exercise five times a week, the pounds have been slowly and steadily coming off too. I still have a long way to go in that area but I am determined to do it this time!



Okay coming back to this post, this was a salad I made recently. I had never tried pearl couscous so I was eager to try it out. The rest of the salad components are your usual salad favourites - cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, fresh mint, bell peppers, red onion, garlic, chickpeas and feta cheese. The dressing is an emulsion of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey and seasonings. I ended up falling in love with the chewy buttery flavour of the pearl couscous and the salad came together so well that I decided I must blog this recipe before I forget how I made it. If not for anyone else's convenience but my own! 😝

But then again, salads carry the amazing advantage of ad-lib cooking. Stock up on grains like quinoa, brown rice, couscous, farro, barley, millets and bulgur wheat. Make canned beans, seeds, dried fruit and nuts your kitchen staples. Get a weekly supply of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. Have on hand extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and dijon mustard (all of which will last you a while) and Voila! You can create some really scrumptious salads without the aid of any recipe.

But to make things a little easy, I'm sharing the recipe for this salad with you. Remember to refer the notes for substitutions and tips. Here is to embracing salads you guys! I hope to bring you many more!

Greek Pearl Couscous Salad

Prep time: 15 min; Cook time: 10-15 min
Total time: ~30 min
Serves: 2
Recipe category: Salad/Western
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe source: Adapted from here

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pearl couscous 
1/2 English cucumber (I used Japanese cucumbers which are similar), coarsely chopped
1-1/4 bell pepper coarsely chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas
1 avocado, cut into chunks
Feta cheese, to taste
1/2 lemon, cut into 2 wedges
3 tsp olive oil

Salad Dressing
1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pod minced garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1.5 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1.5 tsp honey
1/2 tsp Sea salt 
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Method:

1. Fry the couscous in a tsp of olive oil on low flame until light brown. Add 1 cup of water and immediately add seasonings of choice if desired (I used 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp dried herbs, salt and black pepper). Cook covered till done and all the moisture absorbed.




2. While the couscous is cooking, prep the veggies: coarsely chop the cucumber, the bell peppers, the red onion, avocados, and halve the cherry tomatoes. Finely chop the mint. 

3. In a bowl, mix the cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado and fresh mint. Squeeze a lemon wedge over it and give everything a good mix. 


3. Heat 2 tsp olive oil, fry the onions and garlic till fragrant and then add the bell peppers and fry for a few minutes till still crunchy. 


3. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. If desired, roast them in the oven.

4. Prepare the dressing by adding all of the dressing ingredients to a mason jar. Seal the jar and shake  well until combined. 


To serve as a salad: Add the prepared couscous to a large bowl and allow to cool. Add in all of the veggies and chickpeas. Add in some feta cheese, freshly squeezed lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle over the dressing. Only dress what you will enjoy as this salad doesn't sit well for a long time with the dressing on it.


Notes:
  • You can add in the garlic, onion, bell peppers raw if you don't want to cook it
  • You can substitute regular couscous in the place of pearl couscous
  • If you don't want to use canned chickpeas, you can soak the dried chickpeas and cook them on your own. Use 2 cups boiled chickpeas in this recipe
  • If you are making this salad ahead of time, do not add the avocado. Add just at the time of serving to prevent discoloration
  • If you don't have fresh mint, you could use flat-leaf Italian parsley or basil instead
  • You could add in toasted pine nuts for extra crunch


Cheers,
Megha




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