decidedly unassigned: israeli couscous salad with artichokes, roasted peppers, feta & lemon shallot vinaigrette

Something that really chaps my derriere is perusing a menu and coming across something like ‘Asian chicken salad’ – whereby someone has decided that tossing sesame dressed chicken with crispy fried noodles, cucumbers, and sliced water chestnuts on a bed of lettuce somehow makes that salad a dish that you would actually typically find in Asia.  Yeah….not.

I can’t help but think it’s a bit offensive to present our Americanized palates as being that all-purpose, don’t you?  The moment something has feta cheese it’s “Greek,” a chicken sandwich in a pita is now “Middle Eastern,” and slapping some jalapenos and avocado on a burger suddenly qualifies America’s trademark sandwich as “Mexican.”  Actually, it kind of scares me to think just what these countries are calling the “American Omelet” or “USA Burger”…. :: shudder ::

It’s a tad ridiculous, don’t you think?  I realize  we do this as a quick way to mainline information on how that dish will (very) generally taste to the potential consumer – but still, teriyaki sauce does not a Japanese dish make, and sometimes I find it laughable how ready we are to conform to the narrow stereotypes we typically strive to avoid.

This salad is neither Israeli (couscous), Greek (feta), or Italian (roasted red peppers) – it’s just plain old tasty.  It’s a filling but light mash-up of satisfyingly chewy pearled couscous, salty cheese, sharp and savory marinated vegetables, and a bright lemony dressing.  It takes about 15 minutes to toss together and it is perfect as a side dish for large groups, a take-along picnic snack, or for packing up into containers to take as lunch for the week.

I do have a bit of a love affair with this type of couscous, as seen here and here. It cooks really quickly, is easy to keep at home in bulk, and is a nice change from it’s smaller and fluffier finer-textured cousin.  I buy big containers of it and toss it into soup broths and sauces – anything that can use a bit of pasta-y heft. Cooked, it keeps well in the fridge and is also a big time fave carb of the fiance – which naturally scores it extra brownie points.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Peppers, and Feta with Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette
Makes ~5 cups

Israeli (or pearled) couscous is actually not a grain, but a pasta.  The nice thing about is is that it’s good served hor ot cold, and goes really almost anywhere you can picture orzo (in soups, alone with sauces, in side salads, etc).  I have successfully cooked it two ways: the first as listed below, by allowing it to completely absorb the cooking liquid (at a ratio of 1 cup couscous to 1 ¼ cups liquid); and the second by boiling it in a larger amount of liquid and then draining it off when the couscous is cooked (as you would orzo).

Customize this however you like! Eggplant, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, cooked and chopped ham or chicken, and hearts of palm would all be delicious additions.

Couscous
2 cups Israeli couscous
2.5 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
4 whole roasted red peppers*
8 artichoke hearts (cooked, packed in light oil)
½ cup feta, roughly chopped (about half of an 8oz package)**
½ cup scallions, chopped
½ cup (small handful) fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade (long, skinny strips)

Dressing
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp White wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

Bring the chicken broth, vegetable broth or water to a boil (if using water, salt the water well).  When boiling, add in the dry couscous. Stir occasionally 6-8 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender (it should have the bite of an al dente pasta). Drain off any excess broth or water that has not been absorbed, and take care when cooking that the couscous does not dry out and burn (if it looks dry but is still not yet completely cooked add water ¼ cup at a time).  Rinse the cooked couscous under cool water and reserve to the side in a large bowl.

While the cous cous cooks, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vinegar. In a slow and steady stream, add the olive oil to the mixture while whisking constantly. When emulsified, whisk in the chopped shallot. Set to the side while the couscous cooks.

Chop the roasted red peppers into a medium size dice. Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters or sixths (depending on how large they are), and trim and chop the stems (if they are still attached).  Chop the scallions.

Finally, assemble the salad.  Add the artichoke hearts, red peppers, scallions and feta into the bowl with the cooked & cooled couscous and stir to combine.  Drizzle the dressing atop, and stir in the fresh basil.  Season with lots of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Enjoy!

This salad will keep the better part of a week, refrigerated, and is delicious on it’s own, or topped with grilled chicken, a poached egg, or grilled seafood.

*You can roast your own red peppers (either in the oven or by holding them directly over the flame of a gas burner until the skin is black and charred all over, then peeling off the skin) or buy the jarred type that are packed in oil or vinegar. I decided to use the jarred type – they taste fantastic and save you the first step of roasting.

**Use the feta that comes packaged in liquid if you can find it. It’s less dry than the precrumbled kind and tastes much (much) better.

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One response to “decidedly unassigned: israeli couscous salad with artichokes, roasted peppers, feta & lemon shallot vinaigrette

  1. Pingback: of unclassified nature: asian style pork meatballs with ginger, garlic, & cilantro with bean thread noodles & roasted asparagus | {relish}

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