Food generally tastes better outside. Even more so after you’ve hiked eight miles while carrying a 25-pound pack. Since Dave and I almost always eat this couscous salad while we’re backpacking, it’s no wonder we like it so much. But last time we went camping, we got driven home early by, um, we’ll just say fear of Lyme disease and spare you the creepy details. We ate this salad when we got home that night, and it tasted just as good while sitting on the couch watching a movie as it does when we’re eating it out of zip-top bags in the woods.
What’s so great about this salad is that it’s a perfectly balanced complete meal – a couscous base, both beans and nuts, and plenty of tomatoes, onions, and basil. There’s no real cooking involved and not much chopping.
I have tweaked the original recipe slightly – while it’s basically the same list of ingredients, I’ve doubled the amount of pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, and onion. I’ve also reduced to the olive oil in the dressing, which I do with most vinaigrettes recipes.
One final change I make to the original recipe is to toast the unpeeled garlic cloves before adding them to the dressing. Lately I’ve been unhappy with the sharpness of raw garlic, and toasting it mellows its flavor a bit. It’s still garlicky and good, but it won’t burn your tongue. And since the pine nuts are already being toasted, it’s no problem to add the garlic cloves to the skillet as well.
Between the vivid colors of this dish, its healthfulness, the ease with which it comes together, and of course, its flavorful mix of ingredients, this salad is well worth eating at home and in the woods.
Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Classics, by Jeanne Lemlin)
Serves 4 as a main course
1½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.
2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.
3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.