I used whole wheat pearl (aka "Israeli") couscous. If you're unable to find it, whole wheat orzo is a nice substitute. They're both great for summer salads. One of the things I love about this dish is that there's a high vegetable to pasta ratio, so you can feel like you're having an indulgent portion of pasta salad, but it still has very little impact. This yields 6 large servings weighing in at approx. 100 calories each and plenty of fiber. I also love the contrast of the crunchy, fresh vegetables, the softness of the grilled squash and the nutty flavor of the toasted pasta.
A small annoyance for me is uncooked carrot pieces in salads. If they're larger than a sliver, I have to chase them around with my fork, trying to get them to cooperate and climb on board. On the other hand, I like carrots and even like the texture they bring. In this case, I grilled them. It was perfect. The outside softens just enough so that they are easily pierced with a fork, but the core stays firm. It also brought out a small amount of the carrots' natural sweetness.
The beauty of this simple, quick summer salad is that you can use whatever vegetables you like. With exception of the carrots, everything was straight from the farm and our garden. I grilled the squash and carrots, but left the remaining vegetables raw for a wonderful mix of textures and flavors.
Summer Vegetable & Pearl Couscous Salad
- 1 c. Whole wheat pearl (Israeli) couscous (or orzo)
- 1 small onion (or 1/2 large onion), diced
- 1 Tbl. olive oil, plus more to coat grilled the vegetables
- 1 1/4 c. vegetable stock
- 2 medium summer squash, halved lengthwise
- 2 medium carrots, peeled
- 4 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved (or one medium/large tomato, chopped)
- 1 medium cucumber (unwaxed, if possible, so there's no need to peel)
- 2 small, white salad turnips
- 1/4 c. *vinaigrette (I usually use a lemon vinaigrette, but went with balsamic this time)
- fresh herbs, if desired
In a medium saucepan, heat a Tbl. of oil on high. Once you start to see small wisps of smoke, add the couscous to the pan to toast. Stir to coat evenly with oil and stir frequently until the couscous appears lightly toasted. Add the onion and vegetable stock and give a stir. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed (start checking at approx. 10-15 minutes).
Once the couscous is done, pour it into a mixing bowl and add the chopped carrot, squash and tomato. The warm pasta will relax the tomato to bring out maximum flavor. Add about half of the dressing, so that the couscous absorbs the flavor and doesn't get sticky as it cools. Once at room temperature, add the cucumber and turnips, along with any fresh herbs and the rest of the dressing (careful not to overdress). Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.
Serve room temperature or cold. I served this batch under sauteed tilapia with a quick lemon, thyme and caper pan sauce (which is why I didn't go with lemon dressing). The lemon worked well with the balsamic, but offered enough contrast so that it wasn't a one-note dish.
I usually do a 2:1 ratio of fat (oil) to acid (some prefer 3:1), but since I had already used oil when toasting the couscous and on the grilled veggies, I went closer to a 1:1 ratio and seasoned with just salt and pepper. I used a fruity olive oil & aged balsamic vinegar, but you could use any combo of flavorful oil to acid (vinegar or citrus juice), whisk until emulsified and season to taste. As for herbs, when using a lemon vinaigrette, I often use thyme or tarragon and parsley in the salad. I love fresh oregano with the balsamic. Basil would be a nice addition, as well. I also love doing fresh mint with lime. Get as creative as you like!