Today I offer up a recipe that is full of surprises. Like the first time you ever tasted salty and sweet together – who would have thought those two seemingly opposite tastes would complement each other so well? Couscous is an old grain, semolina actually, originally first used in North Africa/Andalusian regions and now widely loved from the Middle East to Europe to South America and the U.S. But the couscous is not the stunner really – well, it may be since I write about Southern-style US cooking, so the fact that I use this as a base for my salad may be out of the box. However, my recipe incorporates other ingredients in combination that are more of a revelation than any actual shock.
Over the years I’ve made this “salad”, I’ve used quite a few combinations of herbs, spices and fruit flavors. But when I stumbled upon the combination of fresh mint and thyme mixed with orange zest I was happily surprised by the overwhelming fresh taste and alluring citrus smell of this dish. I emphasize the use of fresh herbs and fresh orange, not sure anything less would work out as well. The Balsamic vinaigrette also lends the whole dish a bit of extra zing and the crunch of the bell peppers and sweetness of the craisins adds more dimension. It also looks very pretty on the plate!
Summer Citrus Couscous Salad
- 1 (5.8 oz) box couscous, any flavor
- 1 large fresh orange
- 1 cup+ chopped carrots, small chop,
- ½ cup chopped sweet bell pepper, small chop
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (such as Ocean Spray Craisins), roughly chopped
- ¼ cup fresh mint, washed and chopped
- 2 tbl. fresh thyme, washed and minced
- 2 tbl. Balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ tbl. honey
- ¼ tsp. salt plus extra
- fresh ground pepper
Prepare the couscous according to directions on the box. Allow to cool and fluff with fork. Set aside. In a small saucepan bring some water to a boil. Add carrots and boil approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Allow to cool. Grate the zest from the orange to get at least 1 tablespoon. Set aside. Squeeze the orange to get about ½ cup juice.
In a medium bowl whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, honey and vinegar. Sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt, whisk together. You should have almost 1 cup. Set aside.
In a large serving bowl mix together the carrots, bell pepper, craisins and the cooled couscous. Mix lightly. Stir in the mint, orange zest and thyme. Pour half the vinaigrette over the mixture and carefully mix together. Add some ground pepper. You may pour in rest of vinaigrette – or not. I find I usually only use a little more half the vinaigrette. Use the leftover vinaigrette as a base for an Italian-style salad dressing or grilling marinade. It will keep in the refrigerator several days.
Adjust the couscous salad with salt and pepper to your taste. You may serve immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use, up to a day.