The inspiration for this salad was a recipe by Nigel Slater for Baked Couscous and Summer Vegetables. All credit to Nigel for mixing together a lovely combination of ingredients, but I have to say that baking couscous is a really stupid idea. Especially in the summer. The beauty of couscous, and what makes it an ideal summer dish, is in its preparation: boil one volume of water, remove from heat and add one volume of couscous, cover and stir after five minutes. Yes, there are special couscous cooking pots that allow you to steam the grains, but at the end of the day soaking in nearly boiling water works just fine for me. These are the instructions that were on the package, after all. So who wants to heat up the oven in the summer? Not me!
I don't make couscous very often because the Critic doesn't like it. I don't understand this: couscous is as innocuous as rice, a vehicle for tastier items. I also love the nubbly texture. Still, I've had a hankering for some couscous and so a salad seemed like a good way to avoid making an entire couscous meal which might not go down well. For the record, the Critic, ever critical, did not change his mind (though he admitted it was "okay" and might have been better if I had added jalepeno peppers). Our dinner guests last night, however, thought it was lovely. And so did I!
Couscous and Grilled Veggies Salad
1 cup couscous
1 red pepper
2 small zucchini (courgettes)
1 small eggplant (augergine)
1 heirloom eggplant (aubergine)
a handful of tiny cherry tomatoes
2 heirloom purple calabash tomatoes
2/3 cup sweet corn
1 cup chopped cucumber
4-6 chopped spring onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh coriander
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of half a lemon
For the sauce
1 container plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 Tbs spicy paprika or (better) harissa paste
Bring one cup of water to boil and remove from heat. Add couscous to water and cover. Stir after five minutes and remove to a large bowl, using spoon or fork to break up grains. Set aside to cool.
Slice the zucchini and eggplant in thickish wedges (about 1 cm), brush them with the olive oil and grill them. I let mine get a little burned here and there - it only adds flavour to the end product. Cut the pepper in half, seed and also place on grill. When the pepper is cooked through and blackened on the skin side, put the halves in a plastic bag, close and place in refrigerator to cool.
Chop and slice all the rest of the ingredients (as appropriate) and add to the couscous. Dribble the remaining olive oil and lemon juice to taste in the salad. By now, the pepper should have cooled down enough to handle. Remove it from the fridge and peel as much as possible of the skin from the pepper. Don't worry if a bit remains, as it's perfectly edible. Chop and add to the salad. Stir and stir some more. Taste and add some salt if it seems to need it.
For the dressing, just mix the three ingredients and taste for spiciness.
Serve warm or cold, with the dressing on the side for those who want to spice up the dish a bit.
This makes a very light, healthy summer salad. I think the dressing really adds to the final dish, giving it a little pizzaz and keeping it from being too dry. If you think your guests will like it too, you might want to double the amount. In any case, it's easy to throw together another batch if you run out! Also, obviously the quantities and variety of vegetables depends on what you have to hand and what you like: I nearly grilled some large hot peppers for the Critic but decided the other guests might not appreciate them. Some might add a larger proportion of cilantro/coriander to the mix. And if I had more tomatoes on hand I probably would have added more of them, too. And now I'll be eating it for lunch this week: I suspect that being stored in the fridge overnight will have enhanced the flavour of the salad and made it even tastier!