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.
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
- Dry roast the couscous in a saucepan until the pearls start browning, about 3-4 minutes.
- 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.
- In the meantime, assemble your other ingredients: chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.
- In another small pan, toast your almond slivers and set aside.
- Prepare the dressing.
- 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.
- Add the dressing. Gently combine everything with a fork.
- 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.