Pearl couscous salad with paprika and mint dressing

We’re back to school, lovelies! And what a back-to-school dramaturgy it’s been. We’ve been having a record-breaking heatwave here in southern California, no joke, temperatures reached 100+ with nasty Santa Ana winds (the equivalent of the Delhi ‘loo’) blasting in from the desert.

This salad has been a lifesaver in this unseasonably hot weather. Not only does it keep well in the fridge for days (making a most delicious lunch indeed), but it is easy, quick, cooling, and manages to strike that magic balance between being both light and filling (perfect for teaching days). Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients – almost everything is replaceable and substitutable – you can replace the couscous with quinoa or another grain, you can replace the chickpeas with white or kidney beans, and you can replace the mint with basil or parsley. Etc. Etc. Etc. Whatever you’ve got lying around, I promise it will work. The toasted almonds add such a nice crunch and depth of flavor, you really do need the crunch, so if you have to substitute them, use something crunchy!

You get a hint of cinnamon and smokiness from the bay leaf in the couscous, which adds that subtle vacation-y feeling to this. So we can pretend like summer’s not really over.

Bon appetit!




Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 as generous lunch portions, or 4 as a side


2 cups pearl couscous (sometimes called “Israeli couscous”)

1 15 oz. can (about 430 gms) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 stick cinnamon

2 small or 1 large bay leaf

1/2 cup black olives, halved

2 cups cherry/grape/heirloom tomatoes, halved

4 small Persian cucumbers, chopped

4 cups boiling water

3/4 cup slivered or chopped almonds, lightly toasted

3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (or any cheese you like, or omit if going vegan)

For the dressing:

4 sprigs of mint, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. paprika

2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar is fine too)

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Dry roast the couscous in a saucepan until the pearls start browning, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. To the couscous, add 4 cups of boiling water (double the amount of couscous you are using), the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, onion and a pinch of salt. When it starts to boil, lower the heat, put on a lid, and cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, assemble your other ingredients: chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.
  4. In another small pan, toast your almond slivers and set aside.
  5. Prepare the dressing.
  6. When the water from the couscous has evaporated and the pearls have puffed up, set aside and let the mixture cool down for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves carefully. Lightly fluff the couscous with a fork.
  7. Add the dressing. Gently combine everything with a fork.
  8. Sprinkle the cheese and toasted almonds on top. Serve!

Note: if you will be eating this as leftovers, don’t add all the almonds now – just add them to your own bowl. Save the rest and add them just when you are about to eat so they stay crunchy.


Mediterranean Orzo Salad

I often find lunch to be a problematic endeavor. It usually catches me off-guard–there I am, typing away furiously, and lo and behold, its 12:34 pm and my stomach is growling.

During fieldwork, following Kashmiri norms, I cut out lunch altogether. Instead, I would eat a massive brunch of ghee-soaked parathas and yoghurt (not Kashmiri) until my tummy ached. “Lunch” consisted of coffee or tea, maybe a piece or two of toast if one of the doctors ordered some from the hospital canteen. Then, I’d rush home at 6 pm sharp, and a glorious mountain of sticky rice and hak (spinach) or other vegetables would be waiting for me. This, I would consume, with my hands, with half an eye on the banal Hindi serial on the telly. Now, I know this was not at all a healthy schedule (I am well aware of the six small meals a day thing, but really? who has time to cook six meals?) and I am not advocating the two huge meals a day routine. But, honestly, I miss the simplicity of that schedule, no lunch problem plaguing me.

Now, ready to start a new teaching term (tomorrow folks!), I find myself all too often in that stomach-grumbling phase and again, unprepared. Out of desperation, I will eat something on campus: packaged veggie sushi or tacos or a $10 salad and inevitably feel guilty. I’m determined to put an end to this mindless/unhealthy eating this term and am on the lookout for lunches that carry well, are easy to prepare, delicious, and healthy. Early career teachers also know about the stomach butterflies on teaching days that we must factor into the eternal ‘what to take for lunch’ question. If you have other good suggestions for office lunches that fit the bill, do share.

The following recipe, a sunny, bright, Mediterranean-inspired salad that I recently discovered, is ideal. It can jostle around in your bag all day (trust me, I tested), it’s lovely and refreshing at room temperature or cold, and its light and filling at the same time. I mean, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, feta, parsley…these are really some of my favorite things. You don’t even need to worry about packing the dressing separately, because the orzo and vegetables soak up the flavor really nicely, all day long.

My Trader Joe's haul

You can easily prepare this in the morning before you dart out the door, while you are doing five other things. I recommend making a big batch and keeping it in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days (although I recommend keeping your dressing separate if you are going to store for more than a day). This rainbow-colored salad looks beautiful and each bite is different. It makes eating lunch at your desk actually something to look forward to!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 big lunch portions (or 3 smaller)


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 roma tomato chopped, with seeds removed, or 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 dozen, black, pitted kalamata olives, halved

1 bunch curly parsley, chopped

8 oz. or 200 grams chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 small red onion, chopped

3 oz. feta, crumbled (approx.)

1 yellow/orange bell pepper (optional)

1 cup orzo, cooked according to package instructions

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put about 8 cups of water to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add salt and 1 cup of orzo. Stir the orzo occassionally and cook according to package instructions (about 9 minutes). When it’s done, drain the water and put your orzo into a big serving bowl and let cool. Note: your orzo will expand significantly after it cooks.Orzo1

Orzo: after

2.  While your orzo is cooking, prepare your dressing. Add lemon juice, one chopped garlic clove, salt, pepper, and olive oil into a mason jar and shake well until the dressing becomes creamy and a mellow yellow color. Set aside.De-seed and chop your tomatoes, olives, orange or yellow pepper, parsley, and red onion.

3. Open your can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drain out the water and rinse the beans well.

4. Time to assemble! Over your orzo, distribute all your veggies on top, with your parsley last. Crumble the feta over the veggies. Add the dressing and mix everything gently, but well. Note: if you don’t want such a robust onion flavor in your salad or, say, you have student conferences all afternoon, you can mix a bit of the red onion in with your dressing instead. The acid from the lemon juice will mellow out the flavor. Starting to look beautiful!

5. Add a little more parsley and/or feta for garnishing if you desire. Bon appetit!


Late summer cucumber and poppy seed salad

cucumber7Summer is on its way out in much of the US, but here in southern California, it rages on. I’m so excited to be back in the kitchen (a new kitchen) after the tumult of packing, moving, leaving, mourning…but finally I feel settled in my new pad and I promise I will be blogging more regularly.

One of my favorite summer foods is the cucumber. I love cucumbers in gazpachos, Indian style, with a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and in this salad, where they gain a sharp, sweet pickled quality and are a wonderful accompaniment for a barbeque, burgers (veggie/not), or with a sandwich for lunch. This salad is from one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (Ottolenghi), which I turn to on a regular basis to shake things up. I love the way the ribbons of red chilli look in the bed of green.

It’s bright, punchy, and easy. Also, it keeps for a day or two, particularly if you separate the dressing from the cucumbers until you are ready to eat.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4


6 small cucumbers (Persian if you can find them – they are crunchy, seedless, and delicious)

1 red chile/red chili (depending on where in the world you are) – remove seeds if you don’t want the heat

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro

4 tbsp. rice wine vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar if you prefer)

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. poppy seeds

2 tsp. superfine sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Wash then chop off and discard the ends of the cucumbers. Cut them in half lengthwise and slice them at an angle. I like the pieces to be a bit chunky, about 1/2″ thick. Add the chopped chile/chili.cucumber2

2.  Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cucumbers and gently mix everything, making sure that the cucumbers are well-coated with the dressing.cucumber53. Taste – the cucumbers should be sharp and sweet, pickle-like.

4.  Serve immediately, or if you are refrigerating, drain off some of the liquid and save it in a separate container. Then, just before serving, pour it over the cucumbers.


Happy eating! PS–I missed you.

Mango and Arugula Salad with Balsamic Mustard Seed Dressing

arugulumango5Summer is officially here! My mum is visiting from Delhi, and today’s recipe is hers (although she says it’s not really hers, but she doesn’t remember where its from).  It’s a salad I’ve eaten many times while visiting my parents in Delhi, and it seemed perfect for the humid, sweltering day we had in Durham today.  Luckily, my mum agreed to model for me (those lovely hands in those photos, hers!), so today’s entry is truly collaborative.

For Indians, nothing symbolizes summer more than the appearance of mangoes in the market.  A sweet, juicy, dripping mango is what makes summer bearable, many would say.  This recipe is all about celebrating those incredibly sweet, ripe mangoes of summer, but contrasting them against some peppery arugula and two different dressings, one sweet and one sour.   You do need ripe, sweet mangoes for this recipe, so in the grocery store, look for mangoes that are a little soft and that give a little when you squeeze them (just like a ripe avocado).

You should prepare the different components of the salad separately: (i) the mango and arugula; (ii) the balsamic dressing; (iii) and the mustard seed dressing.


arugula1I love the way this salad looks: the bright marigold of the mangoes, with dots of black, against the green.  And it couldn’t be easier. I hope you’ll try it! x

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4


2 ripe mangoes, cubed (discard the center portion with the seed)

1 bag washed arugula (about 8 cups)

For the balsamic dressing:

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. honey

Pinch of salt and pepper

4 tbsp. olive oil, whisked in

For the mustard seed dressing:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds

12 curry leaves (approximately)

  1. Wash the arugula and dry it with a dish towel.  Put it in a large bowl leaving a hole in the center for the mangoes.  arugula2
  2. Cut the mangoes into cubes – they don’t have to be exactly the same size.  Place in the center of the bowl with the arugula and set aside.mangoes3
  3. Make your balsamic dressing: add balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk in about 4 tbsp. olive oil.  Taste and set aside.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat.  When the oil is very hot, add the mustard seeds and allow them to sputter for about 30 seconds.  mustardseeds1Add the curry leaves, but be careful, the oil will sputter, so be sure that you are not too close to the stove.  When the curry leaves become crisp and fried, turn off the flame and pour the mixture immediately over the diced mango.
  5. Pour the balsamic dressing over the arugula leaves.  Mix everything and serve immediately.arugulamango2


Avocado, orange, and radish salad with poppy seed dressing

Its been too long.  Despite having pretty good reasons for the hiatus (job applications and interviews and whatnot), believe me, I’ve seriously missed having the time to write out recipes, cook, photograph, and leisurely eat said goods. These last few weeks, I’ve haven’t had much energy to cook, except to throw some lentils into the pressure cooker for a quick dal.

To make up for all that, today I did double duty and cooked all afternoon. It was so good to take a day off and be completely unproductive and selfish.  This salad is perfect for when you need a palate cleanser after a weekend of hedonism (what’s that?) or just a simple but nourishing appetizer or light lunch.  This salad is crisp, fresh, and what is crucial in my book for a good salad: it keeps you interested because every bite is a bit different.  On another note, I was watching a hilarious Portlandia skit in which Fred Armisen’s character develops an addiction to pasta, which they analogize to a drug or alcohol addiction.  In an interview, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein described how the inspiration of the skit was the thought that on our deathbeds, none of us is likely to say that we’re so glad we ate so many salads.  Anyway, this salad is one of those that you won’t regret so much.

PS–If you want to make the dressing vegetarian or vegan, just omit the egg.

Fruity bedfellows
Is there anything more satisfying than cutting open a ripe avocado and scraping that creamy goodness out with a spoon?



Serves: 2

Prep time: 15 minutes

1 ripe avocado

1 orange, peeled and segmented

2 red radishes, sliced

1 bunch rocket or arugula leaves

For the dressing:

1 egg

1 tsp. poppy seeds

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 glug of olive or rapeseed oil

2 tsp. sugar

½ yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

  1. Peel and segment the orange.
  2. Slice the avocado and arrange it and the orange over a bed of rocket or arugula leaves.
  3. Slice the radishes and arrange them on your bed of greens.
  4. Blend together the ingredients for the dressing: the poppy seeds, red wine vinegar, onion, egg, sugar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour over the salad and serve.


Salad Niçoise

I know it sounds crazy, but salad niçoise takes me back to my time doing fieldwork in Srinagar, Kashmir. A French friend made it for me one weekend afternoon, after a vigorous game of table tennis in the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters. Although we were in curfewed Kashmir, what struck me about this dish was how humble and readily available its ingredients are. Tuna, eggs, tomatoes, and green beans are all a staple in our household.  When these everyday ingredients come together, though, I think they produce a truly excellent salad, which by my definition is one you don’t get tired of eating because each bite is different.

Although you could fancy this up by using fresh tuna steaks, the dish also works well with canned tuna, which is must more easily available (and I hear is how people in Nice eat it). Usually I find salads don’t quite fill me up for dinner, but this makes a hearty and healthy lunch or dinner.

Serves: 2

Prep time: 30 minutes

For the vinaigrette: 

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 tbsp. capers, rinsed and/or anchovies (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad:

1 can of tuna, preferably sustainable. I like the brand Wild Selections. For this recipe, I like tuna packed in olive oil (a little extra richness is nice for a salad), but tuna in water is fine too.

4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved

2-4 small red or yellow potatoes, boiled and quartered

1 roma tomato, cored and cut into lengths

8 oz. green beans, ends trimmed and blanched

¼ cup olives (optional)

  1. Put your eggs and potatoes to boil in separate pots. In the pot with the eggs, bring water to a full, rolling boil. Turn off heat and cover the pan. For firm and creamy hard-boiled eggs, wait 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water. After about a minute, peel and halve. The potatoes will take about 15 minutes to boil and soften.
  2. In another pot, put water to boil to blanche the beans. While you are waiting, trim the ends of the beans. Once the water is boiling, add the beans and blanche for 2-3 minutes. The beans should still be crunchy. Remove from boiling water and rinse with cold water.
  3. While your potatoes and eggs are still cooking, prepare the vinaigrette. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, capers, shallot, basil, oregano, and mustard. Season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Drain the water/oil from the tuna and fork into a small bowl. Pour 1-2 tbsp. of the vinaigrette on top of the tuna and let sit.
  5. Assemble the salad. Make a bed of salad greens and lay each ingredient lengthwise, on top. I think this salad looks beautiful when each ingredient is clearly visible and has its own space on the dish.   As you place each ingredient on the serving dish, pour a spoonful or two of vinaigrette on top, along with a generous grind of pepper. Cut your potatoes last (they should be finished cooking by now) and add them to the dish.
  6. Create a little groove in the middle of the dish to place your tuna at the center. Pour the remaining dressing on top and serve!