Because Why Wouldn’t You Fry A Salad?
Most of you know that I love to travel.
And you also know that I love to eat.
And you probably also know that when I’m not doing one, I’m likely doing the other. Or both.
Or, if I’m not doing one or the other or both, I’m talking about doing one.
Or the other.
These things fuel me — body and soul. They’re the two things — aside from the people in my life, of course — that perpetually encourage continued growth.
I read something online somewhere (so it must be true!) that stated that couples without children tend to spend more money on travel, which wasn’t surprising, but they also spend more on food.
Like… way more than the average bear.
Which at first, to me, was surprising, because kids = more mouths. More mouths = more money. And while kids could technically survive on Saltine crackers and bulk cases of Macaroni and Cheese (P.S. think twice if you’re feeding your children this stuff), I’d like to think that parents will splurge on the occasional carrot or pricier produce, because hey. They went through all the trouble and pain of birthing the thing, right? So they might as well try to keep it healthy.
But then I thought about it, and I realized it’s true — Justin and I probably spend more on ingredients than a typical American household with children, assuming:
a) To save a little time and cash, typical families survive mainly on pre-packaged convenience foods (which are expensive in their own right, but can often be purchased in bulk or at discount stores), and
b) Typical families don’t have a half hour to kill drooling over the massive imported cheese selection at the fancy Cheese Island in high-end grocery stores. And then another fifteen minutes reading the ingredient lists on every brand of baked bread. And another ten trying to figure out what the hell a fingered citron is while basking in the hypnotic array or organic produce.
And another seven at the olive bar.
But I can’t help it. I dig food. It’s not just something to mindlessly consume, but something to explore when I can’t — you know — explore.
Oftentimes I’ll buy something simply because I’ve never tried it before. That happened a couple of years ago with couscous.
First, I loved the name. Couscous. (Sounds like koose-koose.) It’s basically little pasta pellets that you steam rather than boil. Er– pasta puffs? Maybe pasta balls? I actually just learned that the couscous we buy in the U.S. is usually instant couscous because it’s already been pre-steamed for us. So see? I buy convenience foods too.
It’s nothing to be afraid of, and a common staple in northern Africa. I like the kind labeled “Israeli Couscous” because the balls are bigger than the Moroccan kind.
[I’ll wait while you insert the obligatory joke here. Done? It’s okay if you laughed. I did, too. There’s no shame.]
While Justin was gone last month, I was searching for recipes on whose leftovers I could survive for several days at a time and ran across this fried couscous salad by Giada De Laurentiis. When I read the seemingly random ingredient list, I knew I had to try it.
Since that fateful night, I’ve made this three times. It’s that good. The only changes I make are using Israeli couscous (which cooks a little differently), vegetable broth instead of chicken, and a bit less salt and oil. It was slightly greasy the first time, but that might’ve been because of the different type of couscous. And there’s plenty of salty cheese — no real need to add more.
Looking at my notations on the list of ingredients, it’s a safe bet that the article was right about me — I do spend money on food.
But I ain’t ashamed. My philosophy is, If it’s gonna go in my body, it’s gonna be the good stuff.
(Oh, yeah. I went there.)
Fried Couscous Salad
To make it the way I do, you’ll need:
- 1 1/4 cups Israeli couscous
- Vegetable broth (The amount varies on type of couscous and it will say on the package — I think I used 1 1/2 cups)
- 3-4 Tbsp GOOD olive oil (Olive oil is a major flavor in this dish — so make sure, whether you have kids or not, that you splurge one you really like.)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 4 ounces Ricotta Salata cheese, diced (Remember that fancy cheese island at the nice grocery store? You’ll need to go there.)
- 1 small cucumber, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (Giada seeds hers — I don’t think that’s necessary.)
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I buy the kind in oil — the dried ones are weird.)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (Please — please — buy a chunk of real Parmesan — you can tell if the rind is labeled — and grate it yourself.)
- 1/4 cup chopped FRESH basil leaves (Use fresh or don’t make this at all. I’m not kidding.)
For the dressing:
- 3-4 Tbsp GOOD olive oil (I mean it.)
- Zest and juice from half a large lemon (No. Not the lemon juice in the bottle or the zest in the spice jar. Just buy a real lemon, for crying out loud.)
1) Cook the couscous in vegetable broth according to the package directions. Usually, it’s as simple as bringing your broth to a boil, removing it from the heat, adding the couscous, popping a lid on it, and letting it steam for a few minutes.
When it’s done, the water will be absorbed and you can make it all fluffy with a fork, like you do when you cook rice.
2) Heat 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil — the GOOD stuff — in a large, non-stick skillet (trust me on this — I learned the hard way). Toss in the crushed garlic cloves and stir ’em around for a few minutes until they smell nice and fragrant and turn golden brown, then discard them. But save the oil!
3) Turn the heat up to high, and add the cooked couscous. You want to stir this pretty consistently for 5-6 minutes while all of the excess moisture evaporates.
If you didn’t use a non-stick skillet, this is the part where you’ll wish you had. Trust me. I know.
Then, turn the heat down to medium-low and let the couscous continue to fry for another 25 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The idea is to get the couscous a nice, golden brown like the garlic, except this you won’t be discarding.
4) Meanwhile, this is a great time to prep all of your other ingredients. I’m all about the efficiency. Chop that cucumber, dice that Ricotta Salata, julienne those sun-dried tomatoes, chiffonade that basil, and grate that Parmesan.
While you’re doing it, you can pretend it’s the Cell Block Tango from the movie Chicago. Chop — Dice — Julienne — ah ah — Grate — Chiffonade.
Am I the only one who sings songs from musicals while performing sous chef duties?
5) Once the couscous is fried, put it in a bowl to cool a bit (I like to add the Parmesan at this point so it melts), then prepare the dressing. It’s as simple as pouring 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil into a bowl or measuring cup, then whisking in the juice and zest from half of a lemon.
6) Then just toss everything into the bowl and stir!
It’s a really pretty dish.
It would make an excellent side dish to a light grilled fish like Halibut or, if you’re super lucky and have access to my favorite fish, Walleye.
But it also works for me as a main dish — either a hearty lunch or a light dinner.
It’s good room temperature or chilled. Perfect for picnics.