Category Archives: Salads

Israeli Couscous with Pickled Shallots, Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata

in green bowl 1 625 sqI have never understood the appeal of traditional couscous. It simply does not have enough texture or heft for me. Even when steamed and fluffed properly, so that the grains stay separate, it fails to satisfy me. I like my carbs with a bit of bite to them. Israeli couscous is more my jam. It is dense with a bouncy, chewy texture. I had always assumed that Israeli couscous was just bigger balls of regular couscous. I only recently learned the true difference.

Traditional couscous is actually tiny ground pasta made from semolina flour. It is made by rubbing semolina between wet hands until teeny-tiny balls are formed. The couscous is then dried and steamed. Israeli couscous is also made from semolina flour, but the similarities end there. Israeli couscous is made by mixing semolina flour with water, into a dough. The dough is then machine extruded through a round mould, about 1 millimetre in size.  These tiny pearls are then toasted dry, which adds a nutty flavour. 

Traditional couscous has been around, some believe, since the 9th century, but Israeli couscous is just a baby. It only came into existence in the 1950’s. Following the War of Independence in 1948, many immigrants arrived in the newly formed country from all over the Middle East. Most of them relied on rice as a staple in their cuisine, but there were rice shortages. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked the Osem food company to develop something that they could substitute for their beloved rice. They created “Ptitim“. It was nicknamed Ben Gurion rice, since it was originally extruded in the shape of rice grains. They later introduced a round version which they called Israeli couscous.

This delicious salad is my adaptation of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I have only made a slight change. I substituted ricotta salata for the feta cheese they suggested. I prefer the drier texture and less salty taste of ricotta salata. Many Italian grocers carry it. Feel free to use feta if you like, or even some crumbled goat cheese, if that’s your thing.

Begin with pickling the shallots. Nothing too complicated here. You will need red wine vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and some thinly sliced shallots. ingredients for picklingSimmer vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves. Add shallots, turn off heat, cover pot and let macerate for 30 minutes. That’s it. I always thought pickling was so complicated. pickling shallotsTo properly cook Israeli couscous, begin by sauteeing in a bit of olive oil until about half the grains turn brown. Then add water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 12 minutes. The ratio of Israeli couscous to water is 1:1.25.  (For every cup of couscous, add 1¼ cups water)toasted cous cousOnce cooked, spread couscous out on a baking sheet to allow it to cool before tossing with other salad ingredients. cooling couscousPrepare the dressing. The mild flavour of couscous can stand up to a bracing dressing of Dijon, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and olive oil.making dressingThen it’s simply a matter of assembly. I thawed some green peas (no cooking necessary), drained the pickled shallots, washed some baby arugula and mint, toasted and chopped pistachios and diced up the cheese. Sugar snap peas or asparagus would also be excellent friends with this salad. ready to assembleI loved the combination of all these ingredients. Chewy, nutty couscous, bitter arugula, sweet mint, crunchy pistachios, salty cheese and the zingy pickled shallots. Each bite had me craving more. in white bowl

Click here to print recipe for Israeli Cous Cous with Pickled Shallots Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata.

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Farro Salad with Pomegranate, Pistachio and Ricotta Salata

ready to eat 2When I was little, pomegranates were considered an exotic and a very rare treat. They usually appeared around mid-September, and my mom would make us get naked and go outside in the backyard to eat them. She was a bit of a neat freak in those days, and pomegranate stains are a bitch to get out. I have fond memories of those backyard orgies with my sisters.

I was in Israel the first time I ever laid eyes on a pomegranate tree. Laden with heavy red globes, about to burst with ripeness, I thought it was the most beautiful plant I had ever seen. According to Jewish folklore, the pomegranate has 613 seeds, which corresponds to the 613 mitzvot (good deeds) of the Torah (Jewish written law). While it makes for a good story, scientists suggest that the actual number of seeds in a pomegranate is most likely dependant upon the degree of pollination.

Now that I’m all grown up and don’t have to get  naked to seed pomegranates anymore, I find myself sneaking them into all sorts of dishes. I love them in Pomegranate Chicken, Pomegranate Tomato Salad, and Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Carrots.

Their jewel-like seeds add crunch and a sweet-sour tang to a Farro Salad. A tart vinaigrette and boldly flavored mix-ins of pistachios and ricotta salata cheese are a perfect complement to the nutty farro.what you'll needCook the farro in a combo of water and vegetable or chicken stock. A bay leaf, garlic clove and a few parsley stems help infuse the farro with more flavour. stock makes it more flavourfulFresh squeezed lemon juice creates a bracing vinaigrette. Shallots add gentle onion flavour and mildly bitter Italian parsley adds brightness and balance.reaming lemondicing shallotsItalian parsleyready to assembleThis salad keeps well for several days in the fridge. Any leftovers make a very satisfying breakfast the next day.

Click here to print recipe for Farro Salad with Pomegranate, Pistachios and Ricotta Salata.

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On the 6th night of Chanukah: Broccoli Brussels Sprouts Slaw

On the 6th night of Chanukah, my true love asked me if I was trying to kill him with all that butter and sugar I’d been force feeding him. What??? Pecan Toffee Squares, Oat Pistachio Cookies, Macadamia Coconut White Chocolate Shortbread, Perfect Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Chocolate Crunch too much? OK, point taken. Perhaps it’s time for some salad.close up in white bowlI’ve been on a bit of a raw Brussels sprouts bender lately. But really, can you blame me? Would you be able to resist buying these Brussels sprouts? Who knew Brussels sprouts grow on a stalk? So cool. I think I actually squealed when I saw them.what you'll need cropped  These giant bright green olives are Castelvetrano olives. I was introduced to them this summer, and was astounded at how different they are from the typical salty heavily brined green olives we normally buy. They have a crunchy bite and a mild buttery flavour. They somehow manage to be sweet and salty at the same time. Mild and not at all overpowering, they are the perfect olive for this salad. I found them at Whole Foods. Castelvetrano olivesI discovered this recipe in the November 2015 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. A food processor makes quick work of shredding the Brussels sprouts. slicing sproutsslicing broccoliAs we crunched through this salad, my true love said he could feel his arteries unclogging. A fresh lemon vinaigrette dressing gets additional punch from a bit of anchovy paste. Rather than make the dressing taste fishy, it just adds a rich, savory background flavour. A generous shaving of Parmesan cheese, fresh corn and some chopped toasted almonds round out this addictive slaw.

Click here to print recipe for Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts Slaw.

Autumn Panzanella Salad

in black bowl 625 sqTraditionally panzanella salads are made in the summer. Created in Italy, as a way to use up stale bread, toasted croutons are tossed with juicy ripe summer tomatoes, perhaps some cucumbers, onions, olive oil, and maybe some cheese. Everyone knows that a salad with bread is always better.

But an Autumn panzanella salad??? I know! The first time I heard of it , my mind was blown too. This salad was inspired by Chef Michael Symon. He made this one on The Chew a few weeks ago. This is my riff on it.

The most important rule of this salad, (yes, I have rules) is that you must use good quality bread. I used the multi-grain ciabatta from Ace Bakery. Tear the bread, don’t cut it. Douse in olive oil and liberally sprinkle with kosher salt. Toast in a hot oven until golden brown and crunchy. Craggy irregular shaped croutons are way more satisfying to eat. All those nooks and crannies to soak up the dressing.making croutonsAn autumn panzanella salad requires the quintessential fall vegetable, Brussels Sprouts. No roasting required. Just thinly slice. Brussels SproutsAdd some Honeycrisp apples, toasted pecans and gruyere cheese.assembling the salad 1Juicy sweet-tart pomegranate seeds add a pop of colour and some great crunch.seeding pomsassembling the salad 2Toss it all together with an apple cider vinaigrette, and summer panzanella salads will be a distant memory.

Click here to print recipe for Autumn Panzanella Salad.

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Grilled Zucchini Halloumi Chickpea Salad

plated 3 FWe’re not big on celebrating the “Hallmark Card Holidays” in our house. Valentines Day is just an excuse for me to bake, blog about and then gorge on photo shoot leftovers of gorgeous heart shaped cookies like these, or these or especially these!! Not that I really need a holiday excuse to bake cookies.

Mother’s and Father’s Day are customarily observed with the perfunctory card and a big hug. So imagine my surprise this year when each of my 3 children, totally independant of each other, presented me with gifts. Two days before, my youngest son gave me a delicate sterling silver chain bracelet. On Mother’s Day my oldest son handed me an impeccably wrapped and ribboned box that contained an elegant hand blown glass pitcher with a flavour infuser in the center. And then, 6 weeks after Mother’s Day, my middle child, (my daughter), left a fitbit on my desk.

My first thought was that my husband told the kids he was leaving me for a younger faster version and hadn’t gotten around to telling me yet. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I was dying and no one had the guts to break the news to me. But no, the husband vowed he was in it for the long haul and I felt perfectly healthy. Turns out, they just wanted to show me how much they love and appreciate me. Awww. Sweet!!

Guzzling mint-strawberry-cucumber flavoured water and wearing the fitbit make me believe I am healthier already. I decided to go with the flow and assembled this healthy, insanely delicious salad I discovered in the June 2014 issue of Chatelaine magazine.

Already armed with some gorgeous local zucchini, I was prepared. zucchiniI sliced the fatter zucchini on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick planks. The little ones I just sliced in half, lengthwise. slicing green zucchini on diagonalA package of Halloumi cheese gets sliced into 1/2 inch planks as well. slicing halloumiI whisked together a dressing with white wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.lemon juice FEverything gets treated to a generous glug of good olive oil, some Kosher salt and pepper (no salt for the cheese!, it’s salty enough already.) The zucchini get grilled until deeply golden brown. I pan fried the halloumi since it can stick to the grill. A can of chickpeas and some fresh mint and parsley and lunch is ready. plated 4FI think that eating raw zucchini is about as pleasant and flavourful as chewing a sponge. But bathe it in olive oil, salt and pepper and let it get grill kissed and something magical happens to the taste and texture. It becomes silky in texture and almost meaty in substance. And if you have never had fried halloumi cheese before, well, let’s just say you are in for a real treat. It is salty, slightly rubbery and squidgey. While that may not sound like the most appetizing description, trust me, it is delicious. It sort of squeaks between your teeth when you chew it and it is very addictive. plated 2F 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Zucchini Halloumi Chickpea Salad.