There are few dishes more important in a cook's repertoire than a good salad. I'm talking about a salad that is hearty enough to be a complete meal, a side dish with almost any entree, and one that is easy to transport on a picnic or to a pot luck. My Israeli couscous fills all those bills and that is probably the reason you can often find it in my fridge. I call it my Go-To salad.
The history of Israeli couscous is interesting. It is believed to have been invented between 1949 and 1959 when Israel was going through an austerity period and food was rationed. Rice, a dietary staple, was scarce, so Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked the founders of a local food company to create a wheat-based substitute for rice. The company developed a pasta out of semolina wheat that they formed into small balls and baked to give them more flavor. They were an instant success and the people gave them the nickname “Ben-Gurion's Rice.” They are called Couscous Pearls or Israeli Couscous in most of the world and known as Ptitim in Israel.
Israeli couscous is similar to more common North African couscous in that it's a small, whole grain-like food made from semolina or wheat flour. Israeli couscous is larger than regular couscous and because it is baked instead of dried, it has a lovely nutty flavor.
Whenever I make salad with Israeli Couscous, I saute it first to further enhance its nutty taste. This salad can be varied any way you like. Instead of arugula, use spinach or baby kale. Swap blue or goat cheese for the feta and toasted almonds for the pine nuts. Seriously, you can substitute anything you like and it will become your go-to salad instead of mine.
1 tablespoon+ 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups Israeli couscous (about 9 oz.)
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup (4 oz.) feta, coarsely crumbled
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, blotted dry, sliced or
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 tsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 cups tightly packed baby arugula, very coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted at 350° until golden, about 8 minutes
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat until hot. Stir in couscous and cook, stirring frequently until most of the grains are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed and grains are al dente, 7 to 9 minutes.
2. Transfer couscous to a large bowl. Add balsamic vinegar and stir well. Add cheese, tomatoes, onion, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper, to taste. Toss well. Refrigerate until serving.
MAKE AHEAD: Salad may be refrigerated overnight.
3. Before serving, stir in arugula, basil and pine nuts.
Makes 8 servings.