Making the transition back to a summer climate, that elusive warm state that up until recently seemed to exist only in exotic locales, many miles away, has been a bit more jarring than initially anticipated. Yes, of course, I realized that it would someday register above 70 degrees outside, and yes, New England is notorious for its oppressive humidity, but somehow that all slipped my mind as I daydreamed of summer just a month or two ago. Happily glossing over those unpleasant aspects, I somehow envisioned a June and July as the two most perfect months of the year; free of bugs, hot but crisp and dry, and with gentle showers in the evenings to cool things down each night. We’re still just on the cusp of Summer, but already reality has smacked me in the face and set me straight. That ideal summer just doesn’t exist, my dear.
And just as suddenly, the kitchen is no longer the 24/7 hangout, the thought of lighting up every burner and cranking the oven as high as it will go growing less appealing by the day. Anything that can be made in quantity, stuffed into the fridge for later, and eaten cold with no fuss has become my favorite thing on the menu. This means lots of cold salads, primarily, but rarely the leafy, insubstantial sort one might initially envision. I’m talking nutrient-dense, hearty chilled melanges of anything from grains, beans, nuts, tubers, pasta- Anything in the house is fair game when I’m putting together one of these powerhouse one-bowl meals.
Having pledged my allegiance to no one cuisine in particular, what often results is an odd fusion of ingredients and flavors, as this particular riot of colors and textures in a bowl may indicate. Borrowing both an Asian and Mediterranean sensibility, cooked pearl couscous and fresh veggies meet edamame, all married together beneath of light blanket of miso dressing. Refreshing and light but still filling and full of flavor, it’s the kind of salad that’s just as happy being thrown on a plate for a rushed weekday lunch, taking in the glorious AC, as it is being bundled up with care for a picnic on the beach. No matter what Summer throws at you, you’ve got to be prepared!
Mediter-Asian Couscous Salad
Sweet Miso Dressing:
1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Soy Yogurt
1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup White Miso Paste
3 Tablespoons Honey-Flavored Agave, or Amber Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1/2 Pound (1 1/4 Cups) Israeli (Pearl) Couscous*
1 Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted and Sliced
1 1/2 Cups Diced English Cucumber
1 Small Tomato, Diced
1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Red Pepper
1/4 Cup Finely Diced Red Onion
1 Cup Shelled Edamame (Thawed if Frozen)
1/3 – 1/2 Cup Thinly Sliced Scallions
10 – 12 Fresh Mint Leaves, Chiffonade
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
*For this particular rendition pictured above, I used the Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe’s, which simply adds some orzo pasta, quinoa, small beans and such into the mix. Pearl couscous is simply more accessible, in case you don’t have a local Trader Joe’s to raid.
First things first, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing in a medium-sized bowl, and set aside for the time being.
Moving on to the bulk of the salad, cook you Israeli couscous or couscous blend according to the package, drain (or if it’s meant to absorb all of the liquid while cooking, simply transfer it to a strainer) and rinse under cold water until cool to the touch. This will both help to stop the cooking and get it down to a workable temperature. Move the cooked couscous into a large bowl, and add in all of the cut veggies, edamame, and herbs. Toss lightly to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Start by mixing in about 1/2 cup of your prepared miso dressing, mix to incorporate and coat all of the goods, and stir in an additional splash or two until it’s dressed to your liking.
If you want to make this salad in advance, mix in only the initial 1/2 cup of dressing for now, and incorporate the final addition right before serving. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top to finish.
Store in a large, air-tight container for 3 – 4 days. Separately, the dressing will keep for 7 – 10 days.
Serves 6 – 8