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If we were asked to define Mediterranean cuisine most would probably mention the same elements: aromatic herbs, olive oil, and wheat. With a list like this, it goes without saying that minimally processed ingredients form the backbone of the Mediterranean salad since it is mainly plant-based. Meat is consumed as well but only in a limited way and with a special emphasis on fish and seafood products.
Something much more popular than animal products in this region is pearl cous cous, also known as Israeli couscous. Together with brown rice and legumes, this type of pasta has become an essential item of Mediterranean cuisine.
A Mediterranean pantry staple
Contrary to popular belief, pearl couscous is not a type of whole grain. It is actually toasted semolina pasta shaped like small balls that due to its resemblance to rice can easily replace it in almost any cold pasta dish.
Even though the name similarities may be misleading, pearl couscous has nothing to do with regular couscous. Whereas regular couscous is dried before cooking, the Israeli version is toasted, which gives it a nuttier flavor. But the greatest difference lies in the cooking process, since regular couscous is prepared to be steamed whereas pearl couscous needs to be boiled, in the same way as pasta. Another thing to take into account is texture, pearl couscous is bigger so it will have a lot more presence in your preparations than the regular version which is approximately the size of quinoa grains.
A tasty way to make your salads more interesting
Of all the exquisite dishes that Mediterranean gastronomy has produced over history, salads are the most popular. It is not hard to recognize when they are inspired by the Mediterranean tradition, if they are packed with colorful ingredients and aromatic dressings, it is probably the case.
Mediterranean salads are so wholesome and tasty that they make a great main course on their own! Actually, couscous may play a role in it. Due to its high fiber content, this type of pasta is a very filling and healthy addition to any salad. What is more, couscous tends to take on the flavor of the surrounding ingredients, which makes it a very versatile staple that can be easily paired with almost anything. On this occasion, we have brought you a healthy and quick Mediterranean salad that you can make in no time. Even though it is a full light meal by itself, it also makes a great side dish if you pair it with braised lamb shanks, in keeping with the Mediterranean style. Enjoy!
Ingredients (1 serving):
- 5 oz (150 gr) of pearl couscous.
- 1 small English cucumber.
- 3 oz (100 gr) of cherry tomatoes.
- 3 oz (100 gr) of feta cheese, crumbled.
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar.
- ½ tsp garlic powder.
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice.
- 1 tbsp lemon zest.
- Salt and pepper, to taste.
- In a pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the pearl couscous. Cook for 7-8 minutes and try it. It should be al dente, if it isn’t yet, cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. This will stop the cooking process avoiding couscous from becoming mushy and overcooked.
- In a little bowl, prepare the salad dressing by whisking the olive oil, wine vinegar, lemon juice and zest and garlic powder. Season to taste and mix.
- Slice the cucumber and halve the cherry tomatoes and combine them with the remaining ingredients in a salad bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and mix until well combined. Serve with some black pepper on top.
Freezing salads is not recommended since low temperatures make vegetables mushy, but if you prepared too much couscous, you can put it in an airtight container for up to 3 months. For thawing, place it in the fridge 2-3 hours before using it or submerge it in cold water.
Feel free to substitute the greens in this recipe for those of your preference but make sure that they add some texture to the salad. Mediterranean salads typically have ingredients with crunchy textures mixed with softer ones so carrot strings or even toasted chickpeas will be great additions.