My newest hero? The Internet Cooking Princess. Have you seen her blog? I hope you'll clicking over there and check it out. The retro look is lovely, the recipes are top-notch, and her voice is funny and fresh. Also: she made up this couscous salad recipe, and it has become my food of summer.
I took a first look at this recipe and thought, yep -- this is totally something I would make. Hook, line and sinker, I was sold. But examining the recipe more closely, I noticed all sorts of little touches that -- how do you say? -- I'd never have thought to do.
Example: it all starts with a brunoise, a summer squash chopped into pieces so tiny, so evenly tiny, you'll be hooked on their cuteness. Also, she has you cook some shallot, but just for a scant minute or two. I always brown shallots, or caramelize them, or hell, use them raw. I never just cook them for a hot minute. But it works; the shallot softens slightly, but retains its distinctive bite and stands up to the other ingredients in the salad.
And then there's that whole cooked-pistachios thing. I remember when Top Chef-Stephanie made a lamb dish with braised pistachios a few seasons back, and Tim Allen raved that he wished more people would serve him braised pistachios. I was as puzzled then as I was when I saw that ICP has you cook the pistachios. I always toast them until golden, adding them to a dish just before serving so they stay crunchy. Admittedly, I did toast them before following ICP's instructions, because I know I like that intensified pistachio flavor, but heating them through with the moist zucchini and raisins softens them both texturally and flavor-wise to nice effect.
Lastly, and most memorably, Internet Cooking Princess understands the value of subtlety. She has you smash a couple of garlic cloves and let them infuse the dressing while you do everything else. The salad is balanced: sweet and savory, tangy and nutty, rich and fresh. It's just right; it's addictive. And considering I've made it once with regular couscous, once with Israeli pearl couscous, and hell, once with leftover spaghetti, I think I'm an expert on the subject.
Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios, and Mint From the Internet Cooking Princess, via Food52 (but of course!)
1 tablespoon lemon zest Juice of one lemon 1/2 teaspoon honey Olive oil 3 garlic cloves, crushed 1 1/4 cup vegetable stock 1 cup couscous 1/2 cup diced yellow squash 1/2 cup diced zucchini 1 medium shallot, finely chopped 1/2 cup sultanas/golden raisins (I used a mix) 1/4 cup chopped pistachios Kosher salt 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. Spread pistachios on rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Toast about 10 minutes, until pistachios have turned golden. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Add garlic cloves and let them steep for about 30 minutes.
Next, bring stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous, cover, and turn off heat; allow couscous to sit for 5 minutes, or until it absorbs all the liquid. Fluff the couscous with a fork so the grains don't start clumping together, pour into a large mixing bowl, and set aside.
In a skillet over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped squash and zucchini, shallot, sultanas, pistachios and a pinch or two of salt. Only cook for about a minute or two -- you still want the squash and zucchini to be al dente. This just ensures they aren't too al dente, and all the flavors can marry before they hit the couscous. Set aside until everything reaches room temperature. (Admittedly, I wasn't so strict about this part, and added everything while it was warm. Such is the way with weekday lunch...)
Once the vegetables have reached room temperature, add them to the couscous and toss to combine. Remove and discard cloves of garlic from the dressing, and toss it with the couscous (add the dressing gradually, as you may not need it all; I used about half). Fold in the mint, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary and serve at room temperature.