I made this salad expecting to have to eat the whole bowl. It is a selfish salad, according to the standard likes and dislikes of my household, and I was looking forward to several days of leftovers for lunch. But, that was not to be. My zucchini-averse, fig-shy, feta-indifferent husband declared this Israeli couscous salad to be the best salad I have made all year and one of the better things I have made in general. Well. I will trade leftovers for his praise and enthusiasm any day!
My idea was simple. I wanted the texture of Israeli couscous, the sweetness of figs, the crunch of lightly grilled zucchini and the saltiness of French feta, which is milder than the Greek feta I usually buy but still creamy and delicious. I thought that these items would go nicely, and I was right: putting all the ingredients together yielded a salad that was, as they say, greater than the sum of its parts. If you haven’t worked with Israeli couscous, the pearls are slightly larger than “regular” couscous and it has a chewiness that reminds me of barley or wheat berries. Sometimes called “pearl couscous” or “Jerusalem couscous”, it cooks quickly and is a nice backdrop for a variety of flavors; I buy it in bulk at the grocery store. I served the Israeli couscous salad with grilled marinated lamb chops and the promise that if R tried one bite I would leave him alone. (Then he tried about 20 bites and I was surprised and happy!) It is incredibly simple to make but just unique enough to be dramatic– sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, a really fun change of pace. You can add more zucchini if you like, and the quantities are easily multiplied to ensure that you do have leftovers. With both zucchini and figs plentiful, this is a great time of year to give this salad a try; we’ll have it again this week.
Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Figs & Zucchini (serves 4 as a side dish)
- 1 1/4 c. water
- 1 c. Israeli couscous
- 1 small zucchini, cut in half crosswise and then lengthwise into long spears
- 5 figs, halved
- olive or grapeseed oil to grill
- 3 T. sliced red onion
- 1 T. red wine vinegar
- 1 T. olive or grapeseed oil (whatever you used to grill)
- 3 oz. feta cheese, preferably French, crumbled
- salt & pepper
- torn fresh mint (optional)
To a small saucepan, add the water and Israeli couscous and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 8 mins. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork; leave covered, off the heat, until needed.
Brush the figs and zucchini with olive or grapeseed oil and grill. It is difficult to assign a time to this process, since everyone uses a different grill and has different preferences for doneness. The figs should be soft but not falling apart and take less time than the zucchini; I started them on the non-cut side and flipped them after about 5 mins., then cooked for just a few mins. on the other side to give a little bit of color and some grill marks. The zucchini should be turned once or twice to slightly char or brown each side, cooked to the tenderness you prefer. With fresh zucchini, this may be 5 mins. or up to 15. Mind the grill carefully so you don’t burn or overcook the figs or zucchini.
When the grilling is complete, place the couscous in a large salad bowl and add the red onion, figs, oil and red wine vinegar. Cut the zucchini spears into bite-size chunks and add them to the bowl, then the feta. Toss gently; season with salt & pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh mint if you like. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be stored in a tightly-covered dish in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.