There is a lot to be said about couscous. Not, that it is one of my favorite ingredients and rarely a week goes by without me making something with it, but because it is versatile, healthy and very light. Though, usually associated with cuisines across Northern African countries it is also deeply rooted in Sicilian cuisine. Every year in a beautiful village of San Vito Lo Capo, there is a festival dedicated all to couscous. Chefs from all around compete who is the best Mediterranean couscous chef, unveiling all that couscous has to offer along the way. If you happen to be in Sicily in the end of September, and you love good food, that is the place be.
Traditionally, served with stewed vegetables and meat with plenty of spices it can also be adapted for anything from salads to desserts. Now, the most widely available, “instant couscous” has already been pre-steamed and can be ready within minutes, unfortunately the due to the quick preparation some of the best couscous qualities are lost along the way, but well combined it can nevertheless make an excellent dish.
I do have on my list to get the couscoussiere and start preparing the real thing one day, but for now I always rely on the quick alternative especially when making salads such as this. I have heard from people who have tasted plain instant couscous for the first time and some found the taste to be a bit bland. Traditionally couscous is steamed up to three time and seasoned along the way, which helps to develop some depth in the taste, a step which is skipped while preparing “instant” couscous.To make the instant couscous taste great, a few things are to be kept in mind:
- Using stock is absolutely obligatory and if you don’t have any and just about to consider using water, well, just make couscous some other day. For me chicken stock gives the best results.
- Even when preparing couscous as a side dish I always add a drop or two of lemon juice. It helps to “awaken” it, if I can say that?
- Herbs are essential. If you think you have added a lot of them to couscous (when preparing salad), just add a bit more. Coriander is the number one choice when preparing things with couscous; I think it just adds some extra kick of freshness to everything it touches. Parsley, basil and mint work well as well. You can always play with the combination of herbs and slightly manipulate the taste of the end dish, hence bringing a hint of variety, to the same products.
This is a very simple, yet delicious and fresh salad that can be prepared in minutes.
250ml chicken stock
2 lemon, juice
1 small aubergine (eggplant)
a bunch of parsley
a large bunch of coriander (cilantro)
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and freshly grounded pepper to taste
Process: Boil the stock and pour over the couscous, cover with cling film and leave to set for 10 minutes. When the couscous is ready use your fingers to break any lumps that may have formed. This will give a lighter texture to the salad.
Slice the aubergine lengthways, into slices about 5 mm thick. Brush the aubergine with a bit olive oil, and grill on both sides for a few minutes, then sprinkle with some garlic powder and leave to cool for a few minutes. Peel the cucumber, cut lengthways, scrape the seeds out, dice it up together with the tomato, avocado and cooled aubergine, then add all to the couscous.
Chop the parsley and coriander and add to rest. Mix well, add the olive oil, squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Now, gather all the strength to not eat it directly and let t stand for at least 20 minutes. This will allow for deeper flavor to develop.
- This salad can be topped with salmon, baked it in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, some lemon juice, salt and pepper for 20 minutes.
- Grilled chicken (brushed with lemon juice and olive oil as well salt and pepper) also works very well.
- Some shrimps on top are great.
- Feta cheese is a very nice addition.