A delicious summery couscous salad made with Israeli giant couscous, lots of fresh herbs, and a zesty lemony dressing. Salty roasted nuts add cruch and texture.
Pesach certainly seems like a long time ago – much more than a mere six weeks! But it continues to wield influence in my kitchen, by inspiring delicious dishes based on some of the things I made during the chag.
Looking back, our Pesach was surprisingly relaxed. We went to friends’ for seder, and made the most of simple, fresh ingredients for the rest of our meals. Lovely.
One evening I made a huge tray of roasted vegetables and served them with quinoa. We polished off all the veggies, but there was a small dish of cooked quinoa left. I hate to waste leftovers, so I looked for a way to repurpose it.
In previous years I’ve spent a fortune on kosher-for-Pesach dried herbs. Typically these then either a) get packed away for a year before being unearthed, dusty and tasteless, the following year. Or b) are added to the year-round spice rack where they are unhelpful duplicates, taking up space without adding any value. This year, I decided to spend the money on pots of fresh growing herbs instead. They are still on my counter, brightening the kitchen with their verdant leaves, and making our food taste delicious!
I combined the cooked quinoa with plenty of chopped fresh herbs, some zingy lemon juice and rich olive oil, and some tasty, toasty nuts. It was delicious!
Giant couscous salad
Now that Pesach is behind us, and Summer is on its way, my thoughts are turning to salads and cold side dishes in a more general way. Remembering the serendipitous success of my quinoa salad, I decided to try to replicate it, only using Israeli couscous (giant couscous) instead.
Giant couscous – ptitim in Hebrew – was developed in the 1950s at the behest of the Israeli government, as a more affordable alternative to rice for citizens living under austerity conditions. It is basically tiny pieces of pasta, similar to fregola or orzo, and it caught on big time! It is still very popular and now comes in all manner of shapes such as rings, stars, flower and hearts as well as the traditional little balls. (I used hearts here as you can see in the photos.)
How to cook giant couscous like an Israeli
You can simply boil the Israeli couscous in water, then drain it, as you would with pasta. But for a more authentic preparation, first fry the couscous in a little olive oil until starting to turn golden, then add the water and cook until it is absorbed. This gives a lovely toasted flavour and also helps to prevent the couscous balls from sticking to one another.
Once your giant couscous is cooked you can eat it as a warm side dish, topped with a sauce, or you can make it into a delicious couscous salad!
Fruits, nuts and herbs
This couscous salad could hardly be simpler. Plenty of fresh cut herbs, crunchy nuts, and lemon zest and juice pack in the brightness and flavour. You can use olive oil or really highlight the nutty flavour with hazelnut oil, if you have some. Simply mix it up and leave to stand for a few minutes to allow the flavours to combine and the giant couscous to absorb some of the dressing. Then tuck in!
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Giant couscous salad with fresh herbs & nuts
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 170 g Israeli couscous (giant couscous) (1 cup)
- 250 ml boiling water (1 cup)
- 6-8 tbsp roughly chopped fresh herbs - I used parsley, oregano, dill, basil and chives
- 1 lemon - zest and juice
- 4 tbsp hazelnut oil (or use extra virgin olive oil)
- 30 g roasted salted almonds or hazelnuts (approx 1/4 cup)
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the giant couscous and cook, stirring, over a medium flame until the grains start to turn golden brown in colour - about 4-5 minutes. Turn the flame down to low.
Add the boiling water to the pan. CAUTION - when you do this it will spit and boil frantically in the hot oil. I shield myself with the pan lid, tip in the water then quickly replace the lid on the pot. After 10-15 seconds or thereabouts things will calm down and you can safely lift the lid and stir the contents.
Cook the couscous for 4-6 minutes until the water is all absorbed. Then remove from the heat, stir, and leave, covered to cool down.
While the couscous is cooling, mix the chopped herbs, lemon zest and juice, and hazelnut oil in a bowl large enough to also hold the couscous. Roughly chop the nuts and add to the bowl.
When the giant couscous has cooled, add to the herb mixture and stir well until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a serving dish and cover until required.