Monday, July 23, 2012

Grilled Summer Vegetable Couscous Salad

 A tasty summery salad!
In my last post, I wrote about a little bit about my eating habits over the course of the day. I've been trying to focus my lunches on vegetables as much as possible, so I've been making a lot of different salad combinations. This is my most recent. It's certainly good as-is, but don't be afraid to shake it up! Substitute orzo, quinoa, or even rice for the couscous, and use whatever veggies and/or dressing you have on hand. Toss in some diced chicken, canned tuna, or beans for a protein kick. It's a great way to eat seasonal veggies and clean out your fridge at the same time.

Grape tomatoes, zucchini, and red bell pepper are the stars here.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Couscous Salad
Serves 2 as a main dish

  • 1 cup dry pearled couscous (I cheated and used a box of Near East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil couscous)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 red bell peppers, cleaned and cut in half
  • 8 grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1-2 tablespoons salad dressing (I used homemade balsamic--recipe follows)
  • Fresh basil, salt and pepper, and/or other seasonings as desired

1. Cook couscous as directed on the package. When finished, remove from the burner and cover to keep warm.

2.  Prepare vegetables. Brush a grill pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. When it's hot, place peppers skin side down and the zucchini cut side down on the surface. (You can also use a real grill--brush the veggies with oil in that case--or a Foreman grill for this.)

Start with zucchini cut-side down and peppers skin-side down.

The zucchini will develop grill lines after a few minutes. Turn it over and cook one or two minutes more skin-side down.

Lovely grill lines.

Cook the peppers until they begin to blister and char on the outside. Flip and cook a few minutes more on the other side. I wasn't going for the blackened skin of a roasted pepper here, just a slightly softened pepper with a nice grilled flavor. I still wanted them to have a bit of crunch.

Still a few steps away from roasted peppers.

Set the grilled vegetables aside to cool. Place the tomatoes and spinach in a large mixing bowl.

3.  When the grilled vegetables are cool enough to handle, slice the zucchini into half moons and the peppers into strips. Toss the warm vegetables on top of the spinach and tomatoes in the mixing bowl.

The warm vegetables will wilt the spinach just slightly.

4.  Fluff the warm couscous and pour it over the vegetables in the bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss everything together.

Now is the time to add seasonings. I used the packet
that came with the couscous, and didn't feel that it
needed anything more after the dressing was mixed in.

I originally intended this to be a cold salad, like a pasta salad. But of course I had to taste it right away, and it's pretty good served warm too! It's joining my lunch tomorrow with some cherries and Greek yogurt.

And, as promised, here is the "recipe" for my balsamic dressing. I apologize for the lack of specificity--this is something I just sort of throw together every couple of days. It works well with a savory dish like this one, but it's also delicious on a simple salad of spinach and berries.

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette
Enough for 2 or 3 salads

Ingredients (amounts are approximate)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (you may not want this much)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper 
Steps (just one!)

1. Combine all ingredients in a shake-able container with a lid. Shake well until blended. Taste and adjust as needed. The dressing will keep in the fridge for at least a week (at which point I'm usually all out and need to make more).

A tip on salad dressings: If you can't figure out what it's missing, think through the five tastes. With this recipe you have bitterness (vinegar and mustard), sourness (lemon and vinegar), sweetness (honey), saltiness (salt), and umami (olive oil). If I think about that while I'm taste-testing, I can usually figure out what I need to add to balance the flavor. Works for other dishes too! Read more about the five tastes here.

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