Up until a few years ago, I wasn’t a big fan of couscous. In fact, it seemed to me a superfluous, tasteless carb that was a waste of plate space (sorry, couscous!).
Now I’m a convert thanks to this nice little warm couscous salad that I came up with. I guess I originally had a recipe from somewhere but I’ve experimented a lot and it’s morphed over the years. It is a staple in our house, but one that never gets boring because it can easily be adapted to suit the meat and veg I have in the fridge.
It’s a great foundation recipe that uses some simple techniques. The way it works is that you use couscous as a base and then build it up with extras to something tremendous.
You begin with your couscous, then you add your chosen roasted vegetables. Then you sprinkle with a topping such as zest, greens, nuts or seeds. Then you add a dressing. It can be served with meat, fish, chicken, falafel, haloumi or as is for meat-free Monday. It goes well with flatbread and a dip on the side if you so choose.
Some of my favourite combos are:
- roast beetroot, fetta and spinach, sprinkled with sumac and served with rosemary marinated lamb
- roast pumpkin with pine nuts, rocket and pomegranate seeds, served with haloumi – this is lovely with a sherry vinegar dressing
- zucchini, tomato and capsicum, roasted with thyme and garlic – serve with flattened, lemon-zested chicken breasts and a lemon and olive oil dressing
- roast mushroom and chilli with goats cheese and olives, served with steak or slices of mini roast beef
- roast tomato with heaps of greens (rocket, spinach, parsley, mint, basil) and lemon zest. Serve with fish such as bream, snapper or whiting, dusted in rice flour and pan fried. Don’t forget the lemon wedges with this one!
I’ve listed the steps below. I haven’t really detailed quantities because this is mostly about mastering the process.
When you read the steps, you might think, ‘Jesus, this is going to take hours’. Yeah, look, it is not the quickest meal to prepare – prob about an hour or two. I do it on days that I’m not in the office or on weekends. I made the recipe pictured yesterday and it took me from 3pm to 5.30pm, in between feeding the newborn.
BUT it is very easy and most of the time is consumed with a bit of chopping, which I find quite relaxing. And importantly, it is really delicious and as healthy as you want it to be!
Step 1 Roast your vegetables (and cook the meat if you’re having)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
Chop your chosen veggies into chunks for roasting and put on a roasting tray. Spritz with olive oil spray or drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
The recipe pictured uses pumpkin, zucchini, garlic and red onion.
Roast for approx 40 minutes or until they are a bit brown and well cooked through.
Cook your meat how you like it and then leave it to rest. I like to serve this combo with little lamb chops or koftas. The recipe pictured is served with paprika meat balls as that’s what I had in the freezer at the time.
Step 2 Prep the ‘extras’
While you are roasting the veggies, you need to get on with the ‘extras’. You don’t have to worry about the couscous yet as it will take only 10 minutes to cook.
The toppings I included in pictured recipe are:
- greens: rocket, mint and basil (the pictured ones come from our garden!) with some lime zest gives it a bit of a lift, it’s a bit like a gremolata)
- fetta cheese crumbled into small chunks
- roasted peppers from a jar, thinly sliced.
I also prepped some nuts and seeds by heating up a dry frying pan and toss them around until I can smell them and they get brown patches on them. I use whatever I have, this time it was cashews, pine nuts and pepitas. (And the pan can just be wiped out and put back in the cupboard.)
In terms of dressing, my fall back is a simple vinaigrette. Just glug two parts olive oil, one part balsamic/sherry/red wine vinegar into a small jar with a lid. Add a squeeze of honey and some salt and pepper and shake. Set aside.
Alternatively you can make a yoghurt dressing to go with it. Add chopped mint and cucumber to a few tablespoons of yoghurt and put in fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Step 3 Prepare the couscous
Follow the instructions on the packet!
The general rule of thumb seems to be one cup of couscous to approx one cup of liquid (Jamie Oliver reckons you use a half cup of liquid – do whatever works for you). The liquid needs to be boiling, you pour it over the couscous, stir and cover for ten minutes. The secret I think is to use stock – either vegetable or chicken – and add some butter and olive oil into the liquid.
One cup of couscous is ample for a family of three or four. If it is for one or two people you’ll have some left over for lunch.
After the couscous has steamed, fluff it with a fork. You do this by scraping the fork along the top of the couscous. Don’t try and stir it with a spoon, it will be lumpy and hideous. If you do get lumps, just gently break up with your hands.
Step 4 Plate up (sorry I got a bit Masterchefy there)
Tip couscous onto a serving platter. Gently mix in the roast vegetables. At this stage you can also mix in the peppers and greens if you like.
Sprinkle your extras over the top and admire your handiwork.
I always have leftovers after cooking a roast. It strikes me this is a quick and easy way to use those up the next night. If only I could convince my heathen children that couscous is not a scary, exotic food! (Trying by calling it mini pasta but so far no cigar.) CT