This recipe takes advantage of some of the best parts of summer – plenty of fresh parsley, cilantro, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The main ingredient, couscous, is not really a Midwest thing. But somehow my brother became a huge fan of it in high school and made it all. the. time. At first my sister and I were super skeptical – what is this tiny grainy thing?? Once I actually tried it, oh man, I was hooked. My brother is turning the BIG 3-0 this week and to celebrate I’m making him a grown-up couscous salad. This dish is packed with fresh veggies and herbs and flavor.
Couscous is a light and fluffy grain that is ideal for summer, great for picnics or potlucks. It can be served at hot, cold, or at room temperature. This version is meat-free, but you could easily add shredded chicken or fish to make the dish a full entree as well.
One reason I think my brother made couscous so often as a teenager was because, well, he could actually cook it. All you do is boil water. It takes literally 5 minutes. I even made it in my dorm room during college! All I needed was an electric tea kettle and a bowl. And a fork to shovel it in my face. Trader Joe’s usually has larger bags of couscous for cheaper prices, though I prefer the Near East brand flavored mixes usually.
I also made a version of this salad for a large family gathering around last Thanksgiving in Wisconsin. It was a gamble for several reasons: a) salad is usually a version of jello with stuff in it; b) I’m not sure anyone on that side of the family had ever tried couscous; and c) healthy things are not usually on the buffet line at Thanksgiving.
But we were asked to bring a dish to contribute in true potluck style, and that we did. To my surprise it was well-received! (Though I’m pretty sure my grandma still avoided it; I overheard her asking my aunt what that rice-thing was. Gotta love her.)
This recipe, adapted from The Kitchn, is great if you’re just trying out couscous for the first time. Not too crazy, with simple ingredients. If you like it, you can start making all sorts of fun couscous combos. Add shrimp or chicken, arugula and dried cherries, asparagus and goat cheese, roasted veggies, watermelon and feta. Go bonkers, baby.
A few tips for prepping the ingredients. If you have a mandolin, now is the time to use it. There is also a neat trick for quickly cutting herbs, which you can find here. The shallot provides a little kick, but if you like spicy I suggest adding in a bit more chili powder.
And lastly, get the couscous and the add-ins all mixed together before you drizzle on the light dressing. It’s best to mix when the honey is warm and runny. There you go. Picnic perfect. And special thanks to my big bro not only for his taste in music, but also for sharing his food sometimes.
- 2.5 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups dry couscous
- ⅓ cup parsley leaves, chopped, loosely packed
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped, loosely packed
- ¼ cup chives, chopped, loosely packed
- 2 heaping cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 Persian (mini) cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- 4-6 oz. crumbled goat cheese or feta
- 1.5 tbsp honey
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¾ tsp chili powder
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Bring the chicken broth and 1 tbsp olive oil to a light boil (with spice packet from couscous box, if using). Once boiling, stir in the couscous and remove from heat. Cover with a lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
- Transfer the couscous to a large bowl. Mix in the herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, shallot, almonds, and cheese. Gently stir.
- Heat the honey in a glass bowl in the microwave for 10 seconds. Stir in the olive oil, cumin, and chili powder. Pour the dressing over the couscous and mix well to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold!
- This recipe serves 6-8 people as a side dish. Add grilled chicken or salmon to make it a complete entree.
- While you wait for the chicken broth and couscous to cook, you can prep and slice all the add-ins.