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
- 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)
- Place olive oil, lemon juice, and canned tomatoes (juices included) into a large bowl and mix well. Add couscous and stir to combine.
- 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.
- 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.
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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