No-Cook Couscous Salad

As I write this, much of our country has spent the last few days sweltering in a record-setting heat wave. As a result, my stove is officially off-limits and the barbecue has been all but abandoned. To further complicate matters, for every degree the temperature goes above 95, my appetite seems to decrease exponentially. So, today, with yet another heat index forecast to be well over 100*, I’m looking for something light, fresh, and easy to prepare for dinner. For me, that often means a pasta salad. (OK. It also means ordering a meal for home delivery but what kind of recipe post would that make?) We all have our favorite pasta salads and recipes abound for tabbouleh-like salads that use couscous in place of bulgur. Today’s recipe, a favorite of mine, is from David Rocco’s Dolce Vita and is perfect whenever it’s a hot time in the city.

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Resembling a grain, couscous is actually a small bead of pasta. In fact, I’ve seen Lidia Bastianich actually make it on her show, Lidia’s Italy. It’s a simple process: flour — I believe it was semolina — is spread on a tabletop and water is sprinkled over its surface. A few minutes later, the resulting small pasta beads are carefully collected and sorted using sieves with holes of varying sizes. It was an interesting process to watch, although I doubt that I’ll ever attempt it, especially for today’s recipe. That’s because the main advantage to this pasta salad over all others is in its ease of preparation: there is no cooking. Instead, raw couscous is allowed to marinate in a rather generous amount of dressing and, as it hydrates, the couscous absorbs the dressing’s flavors. The result is a light, tasty salad and a kitchen that’s as cool as it was when you started. Believe me, on days such as these, my kitchen needs all the help it can get.

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No-Cook Couscous Salad Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups couscous
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers of differing colors, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 doz cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large can (28 oz) diced tomatoes plus liquid
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • basil leaves, torn, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • splash of red wine vinegar (optional)

Directions

  1. Place olive oil, lemon juice, and canned tomatoes (juices included) into a large bowl and mix well. Add couscous and stir to combine.
  2. Add the bell peppers, onion, celery, carrot, and cherry tomatoes to the bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours. Give the salad an additional mix, or two, while it is being refrigerated.
  3. Just before serving, tear the basil leaves, add them to the salad, and mix well. If desired, add a light sprinkling of vinegar over the top of the salad.

Variations

Anyone who reads this recipe will probably think of additional ingredients to add to the mix. In fact, I added the celery, carrot, and splash of vinegar to David’s original dish. The interesting thing about the recipe is not so much the list of ingredients as the fact that no cooking is required. Still, if you’re looking for suggestions, you can try adding chick peas, sliced radishes, lettuce, walnuts, apple, you name it. And don’t forget herbs. Mint, for example, will add a completely new dimension to your salad’s flavor profile. Lastly, if you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, try topping off your salad with some flaked tuna that’s been dressed lightly with olive oil & wine vinegar. 

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44 thoughts on “No-Cook Couscous Salad

  1. LIDIA RULES! I thought only all caps would convey how much I love her. I also love the idea of a pasta that plumps while it marinates. This just looks really fresh and fantastic. But back to Lidia, whenever she’s on TV we stop and watch. But you know I don’t think I own one of her books. This must be remedied.

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    • I couldn’t agree more. There is only one Lidia and I love everything about the woman. There’s an authenticity about her and her recipes that few chefs possess and my DVR is set to record her show whenever it’s broadcast. LONG LIVE LIDIA!

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  2. I always knew couscous was a quick dish to prepare, but you’ve made it even easier… I did not know it could simply marinate to tenderness! This will be a great dish to prepare before work (yes, I remember your comment that you Don’t Work, but some of us do!) and truly, the possibilities are endless to mix into this wonderful salad.

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    • I hope my attempt at a joke didn’t offend, Linda. I’m disabled and don’t work currently — but I’ve not forgotten what it’s like to come home on exceptionally hot days and have to fix dinner. Make this salad in the morning and let it “cook” all day long in the fridge. As for the recipe itself, the only thing you need to be careful about is the amount of liquid needed to hydrate/cook the couscous. So, if you choose not to use the canned tomatoes, you’ll need to add some other liquid to make up for the fluid loss.

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      • Oh, and you didn’t even need to boil the water. That is wonderful! I love you above suggestion about letting the couscous plump up while away at work, coming home, browsing what’s in the garden, a little knife work, and dinner! It sounds so perfect…. A glass of chilled rose`…..

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        • I have a batch in the fridge right now that I made this morning with the vegetables I bought yesterday at the farmers’ market. Since no cooking is involved, it really is a one bowl dish and perfect for the “dog days” that lie ahead.

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    • Ah! The grass is always greener … I try not to complain too much about the heat for I know that in 6 months I’ll be cursing the cold as I use a snowblower to clear my front walkway and that of my neighbors. I’ll probably blog about casseroles on those days.

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    • My appetite is much the same as yours and that’s why I love this salad. It’s light and fresh-tasting, the perfect appetizer for the dish of ice cream I’ll eat to try to cool off.

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    • We’ve had some exceptionally warm weather and recipes like this one that don’t require any cooking are heaven-sent. I’m glad you enjoy it and thanks for stopping by to comment.

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  4. I’ve been looking for something like this for my lunches. Easy and refreshing, no warming or cooking. I work from home, and even warming up leftovers can seem too much at times. Thank you!!!

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    • This salad is tailor-made for someone who works at home, Angeline. Take a few minutes to assemble it in the morning and it will be ready and waiting for you at lunch time. It’s a great way to take advantage of the produce at our farmers markets. And no cooking required!!!

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  5. Gosh, John, this is really an interesting idea! I’ve never thought of not cooking couscous before. I’m pretty familiar with it – I lived in Morocco for a bit just out of college, and couscous is on many tables every Friday for lunch (the Muslim sabbath). I’ve seen it being made countless times – really labor intensive! But never saw it eaten “raw” (I realize the marinade rehydrates and tenderizes it). Fun recipe – definitely something I need to try. Thanks.

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, John. It must have been fascinating to live in Morocco for a spell. I’ve seen couscous made on a couple of cooking shows and, as much as I enjoy making pasta, this is one I’ll leave for others to make.
      I must admit this “salad” was a bit of a surprise. A few minutes prep work in the morning and you’re rewarded with a light meal or tasty side dish. Now, if only the hot weather would return …

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    • You came down from the mountain! Welcome back, Cecile. You’ve been missed. This “salad” is ridiculously easy to prepare — and surprisingly good. Why can’t more dishes be like this? :)

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      • Hi John – I think we’ve finally gotten to the bottom of my “tummy” troubles…. and it stems back to 40 years ago, when “little old me 5′ 3″ me” gave birth to twin boys. My next step is to find another type of surgeon and, hopefully, I’ll be back to being the bouncy me again soon!
        I’ve had a pasta and Italian bread recipe all ready to go for about a month – I’m gonna post it tonight!! And hopefully I’ll be getting back to posting regularly soon!

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        • I hope you have found the cause and the new surgeon will be of help. I don’t know how you women do it. Seriously. If men got pregnant Mankind would not have made it out of Eden.
          Looking forward to your new posts and seeing you more often. You really have been missed. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

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      • Yup – me again. The pasta recipe I’m posting tonight6 contains some of your “Basic Sauce”, so I’m – once again – posting the link to your recipe! ; o )

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  6. We sometimes get couscous here, John and this would be perfect for my current ‘no stove, no burner, no cooktop’ kitchen situation!!!! I’m off to chase down a supermarket that has it, then I’ll be off and running with my own variations – thanks John :)

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    • I’m sure you could but you have to be careful. The tinned tomatoes have quite a bit of liquid and that’s needed to hydrate and flavor the couscous. If using fresh, you’ll need very juicy tomatoes. I don’t think plums, for example, would work.

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