I took my time meandering through the produce section at Trader Joe’s yesterday. I was still mourning the loss of not making it to my farmers market last week, so I gifted myself extra time to ooh and aah at this summer’s bounty that is finally making its way into my kitchen. Peaches, zucchini, nectarines, eggplant, strawberries that taste like strawberries and not like water. Heaven!
As I wandered and stared, and stared and wandered, trying desperately to not buy everything all at once, I racked my brain for a way to get as much of this fresh produce as possible into my diet this week. I don’t recall if I’ve admitted this before, since I have the worst memory in the history of mankind, but my love of the typical green salad has been waning for some time now. Lettuce with a few inexpensive vegetable toppings and a dressing? Snoozefest!
Hence (now don’t I sound high and mighty), I’ve been trying to be more creative in my use of vegetables and produce. Lunch is really the challenge for me. When I’m working and therefore away from home, I don’t want to spend extra money on food that’s likely not very tasty and even less likely to be made from quality ingredients. So I do my best to bring lunch to work with me. Historically during the summer when there’s a plethora of produce and hot temperatures, such as the oh-so-fun ninety degree weather we’ve been having here in Boston, my go-to is a simple cold salad. But I’m so over those. Did I say that already?
Yesterday, pondering ideas for this week’s possible lunches, I was inspired by a classmate who brought a simple pesto couscous salad to class a few weeks ago. Admittedly, one of the very best benefits of getting a Master’s degree in food studies is that snack time is considered a very important element of every class!
I decided to build upon her creation with a number of my own additions. I wanted to make something that would be hearty enough to sustain me for the afternoon. Or rather, for the two hours before I would inevitably get hungry again. Alas, my stomach never grew out of its toddler days. I must carry snacks with me religiously.
A few more trips down the aisles and this week’s lunch was born. I hope this dish finds its way to your table, too. It was so quick and easy to make, and just as satisfying. This salad is full of textures, from the soft couscous to the crunchy pine nuts. And it’s chock full of even more flavors — the tang of the bitter arugula pairs perfectly with the mild sweetness of the beans and tomatoes, all married together by the fragrant pesto.
Even though this salad (I hesitate to even call it that!) is abounding in protein from the couscous and beans, if you want a little meat protein, or want this dish to be even heartier, I’m sure it would be equally delicious with the addition of shredded chicken. I should also warn you, this salad’s best day was the day it was made. If you eat it in leftover form, I’d suggest adding a little oil and vinegar, or even a dollop of pesto, to moisten it back up. I think that tomorrow I’ll enjoy mine with a side of spicy hummus and wheat crackers. Topped off by one of those nectarines, of course!
Israeli Couscous and Arugula Salad
1 1/3 cups dry Israeli (or “pearl”) couscous
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups boiling water
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 large handfuls of fresh arugula
1/2 cup basil pesto
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh cracked pepper
Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring regularly, until the couscous is lightly browned — about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, boil water in a tea kettle. Once the couscous is toasted, add the boiling water to the pot of couscous, reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pan. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until the couscous is tender.
While the couscous is cooking (say “couscous” five times fast), combine the beans, tomatoes, feta cheese, pine nuts, pesto, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Adjust the seasonings as you see fit.
Add the arugula to the bowl and stir to combine.
Add the couscous and adjust the salt and pepper once more if you need some additional flavor.
You really can’t mess up this salad, so I encourage you to mix it up, add additional seasonings, ingredients etc. And let me know what you come up with!