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Monday, May 25, 2009

A Different Salad for Summer

Sometimes recipes that you love happen by accident. This week's summer salad is a good example of one. Usually, I have a good sense of what I am going to make before I even step into my kitchen. But several weeks ago, I thought I might make a salad for dinner. In my mind, it was going to be a simple green salad with celery, peppers and tomatoes. Then my husband reminded me that our contractor was going to be arriving the following week which means we needed to purge our clutter.(We are "lowering our basement." I know that concept may sound strange for most people but in our neighborhood in Toronto where the tiniest houses sell for a mint, a way of extending your living space when you can't add an addition to your house is to dig down your basement floor to create enough head space. This gives you an additional floor of livable space. If this sounds expensive, you're quite right, it is, but it is cheaper than moving. Unfortunately, we will be working for quite a while to pay this off. But we hope in the end, it will be worth it.)

That little impetus gave me some thoughts to see what was in our pantry and there I saw it, Israeli couscous, in a gleaming mason jar. I had been thinking about using it and I thought I might try it as sort of a "light" pasta salad in that there would be more vegetables with just a highlight of starch.

The result is a clean, fresh tasting salad with the flavours of summer: tomatoes, peppers, and celery. It's juicy and crisp and feels like the type of salad you want to eat when the days are long and it is too humid to cook dinner. Even leftovers are delicious, it stays crisp even overnight and the couscous continues to absorb the flavours of the gardineria and the marinated mushrooms.

In fact, this “recipe” is so simple that I hesitate to call it that. It is really a couple of ingredients we had in the fridge tossed together. This recipe would work well for a picnic or a potluck where you might have limited access to refrigeration, easily doubles or triples to feed crowds and is easy to transport.

Israeli couscous is often mistaken for a grain, but in reality, it is actually quite similar to pasta. If you can't find Israeli couscous, you could use the more common finer-grained couscous or try a small pasta such as orzo. Israeli couscous can be found near the grains, rice section of your grocery store.

Israeli Couscous Salad

1/2 c Israeli Couscous

1/2 yellow / orange pepper
3 stalks celery, trimmed

1/2c marinated mushrooms*
1/2c gardinieria*

2 medium sized tomatoes

1. Cook Israeli Couscous per package's instructions in plenty of water until al dente. Drain couscous.

2. Meanwhile, chop pepper and celery into uniform medium-sized chunks. Add to a large bowl, toss with marinated mushrooms & gardinieria including some of the marinade. Add the warm couscous and toss well. Leave for at least 30 minutes (for best flavour).

3. Slice up tomatoes and add to salad when ready to serve.

*You can purchase marinated mushrooms and gardinieria (a delicious mixed vegetable pickle usually includes cauliflower, carrots, celery and hot peppers.) Both are so easy to make, but in a pinch we buy it. Alternatively, you could lightly pickle fresh vegetables by cutting up bite size pieces of your favourite vegetables - carrots, celery, cauliflower - tossing them in a boiling mixture of distilled white vinegar for up to 5 minutes. Strain and cool. Save some of the pickling liquid to toss with the couscous.
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