oui, chutzpah! (israeli couscous and french lentil salad)

It’s hard to top summer’s abundance of leafy greens piled high with fresh-picked vegetables from the garden. The Queen of Summer cuisine is back, in shades of fern and chartreuse. The Salad has arrived, piled high on our plates like hibiscus blossoms offered to a Hindu god, to cleanse us of any vegetable estrangement that might still linger from winter.

Yet there’s another kind of salad that’s captured my coeur. A salad with chew and bulk and just the right amount of cheekiness. A salad merging the semolina pearls of Israeli couscous with the freckled indigo lentilles du Puy. A salad with chutzpah.

Like other pasta- or grain-based salads like tabbouleh, this salad will do double-duty as a side or the main show. Cool enough for company and easy enough for Monday, it shines alongside burgers or lugged along to potluck. Or how about stashed away in the fridge for a lunch-hour crisis that might otherwise send you to the snack cupboard? Sharing is so overrated.

When I first made this salad, it was the not-so-obvious combination of textures and tastes that really struck the “make again” sensors. As I get more comfortable making “ethnic” food, I have learned that mint and cinnamon, dates and pine nuts are perfectly happy co-habiting. These surprise minglings are one of the most basic pleasures of eating — something that too often gets lost to convenience and habit.

Let this salad break you out of a romaine n’ ranch rut. I promise it will make your taste buds bellow a different kind of Tradition! from the rooftop.

Israeli Couscous and French Lentils

serves 4 as a side dish, double for a more reasonable leftover-friendly amount

1/4 cup French lentils, well rinsed (blackish with flecks, and smaller than brown lentils…see picture following recipe)

2 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous (pearl-shaped, see picture following recipe)

1 (4 inch) cinnamon stick

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp freshly grated lemon peel

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup pitted chopped dates

1 1/2 Tbsp minced fresh mint (please don’t omit this!)

1/4 to 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper

-lemon wedges

-pine nuts, toasted on an un-oiled baking tray at 350 degrees for 3-5 minutes.

  1. In a saucepan, combine the lentils with 1/2 tsp of the salt and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well, set aside.
  2. While the lentils simmer, bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Stir in the couscous, cinnamon stick, and 1 tsp of salt. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil; then uncover and cook for about 8-10 minutes. The couscous should still be a little firm in the middle. Drain, rinse with cool water, and drain again. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
  3. In a serving bowl, toss together the couscous, lentils, olive oil, lemon peel, lemon juice, bell peppers, dates, mint, pepper, and the remaining tsp of salt. Set the salad aside for 30 minutes to let the flavours develop.
  4. Serve with lemon wedges and top with toasted pine nuts.

courtesy of Moosewood Restaurant New Classics

Nutritional information (per 1 cup): 226 calories, 5.1 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 6.6 grams protein.

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3 responses to “oui, chutzpah! (israeli couscous and french lentil salad)

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