There are endless variations on cold couscous salad. Put one ingredient in or take it out, amp up the dressing with spices or calm it down. I could spend my entire summer trying them all. Still, it’s Minty Couscous that won my heart this year.
I made a huge batch recently and then watched it disappear over the course of a few days. First as a salad with a grilled salmon dinner, then as a lunch on its own, and finally as a snack one late afternoon.
What is couscous? “Real” couscous is made from semolina whole or white wheat, barley, or millet that is rolled and separated into tiny pellets. In the US it is generally sold in two sizes; one is so small that I would call it super tiny granules and the other is about the size of grains of demerara (raw) sugar. I prefer the larger version because it has more texture and stands out more once you add other ingredients. As to whole wheat vs white – I see a difference in color (the whole wheat is darker), but can’t discern a difference in taste once the couscous is cooked and used in a dish. So for nutrition, I would choose whole wheat. This batch, however, used white because that’s what I had on hand, and I’m not one to waste food if I can help it.
Traditionally couscous is steamed for over a half hour, but in the US it is sold pre-steamed and packaged (in bulk or boxes) so that you only need to pour in boiling water, stir for 30 seconds and let it rest, covered for 5 minutes.
So-called Israeli or Jerusalem couscous is pasta, formed into a ball shape that is 2-3 or more times larger than the large, “real” couscous. It’s still tiny, about the size of the Italian pasta called acini di pepe, but entirely round instead of bead-like.
Tips to make Minty Couscous (or any couscous salad) a stand-out.
- Separating the couscous – Once the couscous has absorbed the water, running a fork over it to separate the grains fluffs it up. If you simply pull the couscous out of the pot with a spoon, it clumps.
- Choosing vegetables, nuts and fruits to include – Make them colorful. You won’t need much of each, so this is an ideal recipe for using up bits and pieces of veggies.
- Cutting the add-ins – Try to dice the vegetables, nuts, mint and parsley into pieces as small as you can. The process may be tedious, but the reward is a salad that has a lovely texture.
- Using fragrant spices – Take a whiff of your spices before you use them. Are they still fragrant or have they lost their delightful aroma? I try to buy small amounts of spices and to check them before adding them. They should deliver more than just color.
A simple, yet addictive couscous salad that combines the sweetness of mint with other spices and vegetables.
- 2 cups large kernel "regular" (not Jerusalem or Israeli) couscous
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 2 cups finely diced "hard" such as carrots, colorful peppers, seeded cucumbers (removing the inside membrane and seeds), celery, and radishes
- 1/4 cup finely diced Italian (flat leaf) parsley
- 1/4 cup finely diced fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup currants Currants are smaller than raisins. If you use raisins instead and you're obsessive, cut them.
- 1/4 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed) About 1/2 orange juiced.
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts preferably pistachios or pin nuts (for an especially Middle Eastern taste) or walnuts
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice Juice from about 1 & 1/2 lemons.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium size pot. Add the oil or butter, mix them in and add the couscous. Stir the couscous for 30 seconds as it begins to absorb the water, then cover the pot, remove from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.
Remove the cover, separate the couscous granules by running a fork over and through them. Set them aside in a large platter with sides or a bowl.
Add the diced vegetables, parsley, mint, and scallions along with the chopped nuts to the couscous and mix them gently but well.
Heat the orange juice (with water if necessary) until it is warm but not simmering (microwaving is simple and quick), then add the currants or chopped raisins and let them soak until they have absorbed most of the water. Add the fruit and liquid to the couscous and incorporate them.
Mix the spices, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl with a fork or shake them in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour the dressing over the couscous and gently mix it in.
Let the salad stand for 30 minutes on the counter or refrigerate it to let the flavors blend. Serve with grilled meats, fish, poultry and/or veggies, or as a one-dish lunch.