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Sep 27, 2007

Couscous Salad, Unexpectedly

[Santa Monica, September 2007]

I went down to Santa Monica last weekend for a little art show viewing at a fab gallery and requisite beach time (of course). Who knew Southern California was so mellow, with such an endless, sunny beach? I certainly did not, and will probably be back at some point to soak it up a bit more.

Saturday night we were invited to a discussion and potluck dinner, and I thought initially I'd just pop over to the next-door Wild Oats market and pick up something pre-made. Oh, silly me. At this point, I should just accept that prepared foods are rarely an option unless I'm in a real rush; most of the time I've gotta make it myself, even if I'm fairly far from home.

I didn't know what the crowd would be like -- would there be many vegetarians? Would there be none at all? Would there be more desserts than main dishes? What, oh what, to do? -- and while I contemplated baking a quick and easy vegan chocolate cake, the first thought which came to me, unbidden, was to do an even quicker and easier couscous salad with my now-beloved feta cheese added in at the last minute.

So, you know, I did.

I just bought about two cups-worth of couscous, a packet of feta (I went with the "tomato-basil" variety for a change, and was not disappointed), a few vegetables, and a can of (organic) chickpeas, and allowed myself 15 minutes to put it all together. And that's all it took!

Couscous is one of my favorite things to make because it's delicious and quick -- 5 minutes, usually, is all you need -- and the feta was a perfect accompaniment. As I let the couscous absorb its water, I chopped a cucumber, sliced an onion for some bite, and washed a basket of orange cherry tomatoes. After the couscous cooled enough so as to not melt the cheese, I tossed all the vegetables and chickpeas, along with a healthy amount of olive oil, into the couscous. I didn't have any fresh mint, but I will definitely use some the next time; plain feta would be fine, too, if you would rather forgo the fancier stuff. I'd also add some lemon juice, and top each serving with a dollop of garlicky yogurt sauce.

But this dish was fine as it was. I made sure to pile a decent amount on my plate from the start, and it's a good thing I did, because it went fast. It's in keeping with my Mediterranean, beach-y mindset of late -- perfect for an early fall foray to a place where the sun seems always to shine (well, except for Saturday morning, when it rained, and was chilly; an aberration, I heard). Plus, I've found an unexpected addition to my roster of quick and healthy weeknight meals, and I can't wait to make it again.

Couscous salad with feta and chickpeas

2 cups [whole wheat] couscous
2 Tb. olive oil
2 1/2 cups water or broth
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
cherry or grape tomatoes (1 basket, more or less)
2 slabs of feta, coarsely chopped
fresh mint
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Boil the water with the olive oil, then turn off the heat, add the couscous and stir and cover. Set aside for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. When the couscous has absorbed the water, fluff with a fork and put into a large bowl.
Let cool a bit before adding the vegetables.

When the couscous has cooled, throw in the vegetables and chickpeas. Add a bit of olive oil if you like; sometimes it seems a little too dry. Salt and pepper to taste, along with the mint (dried oregano or basil would also work). Stir and toss to combine well. Add the feta and stir gently before serving.

[Omit the cheese for an almost-as-delicious vegan version/]

Also! this would taste yummy yum stuffed in roasted tomatoes or peppers.


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