We’ve gotten to that time of summer when even those of us who are most dedicated to the act of cooking are ready for a bit of a break from the kitchen. Thankfully, with summer produce approaching its absolute zenith, it’s possible to eat incredibly well without spending hours by the oven or the stove.
This time of year, I eat open-face tomato sandwiches for breakfast. For lunch, I toss cucumber, corn, tomato and basil together, add a little salt and olive oil and call it done. Dinnertime calls for big salads made with quick-cooking grains or pasta and lots of vegetables. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll call a friend with a grill and invite myself over for a cookout.
In past years, I used a lot of quinoa in dinner salads, but after a plaintive request from my husband for a little variety, I started scanning blogs and websites for something new. The answer came in the form of a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. She combines large couscous grains with grape tomatoes, red pepper, torn spinach, mint and a smoked paprika dressing. The finished product is both familiar (it is essentially a riff on the classic pasta salad) and different enough to be entirely appealing.
The other thing I like about it is that the only perishable ingredient in the salad is feta cheese, which is a hardy item as far as dairy products go. That makes this dish an ideal candidate for outdoor dining and summer cookouts, because its refrigerator needs are less than a more perishable recipe. I took a batch to a day-long canning workshop. After a couple hours of peeling and chopping tomatoes, everyone gobbled it down with great appreciation.
Whether you’re grilling, picnicking or just trying to keep your kitchen cool, make sure to add Giada’s Israeli Couscous Salad With Smoked Paprika to your menu. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the perfect thing for a late summer Weekender.
Before you start simmering your couscous, here are a few things you should know:
– If you have a backyard garden or get a weekly produce box or CSA share, much of what’s in season this time of year will work well in this salad. For instance, Giada calls for using canned fire-roasted red peppers. If you’ve got a fresh one kicking around, feel free to make a substitution.
– I’ve made this salad several times now and I once swapped out Swiss chard leaves that I had in my fridge for the spinach the recipe calls for. Sliced into thin ribbons, they were a delicious addition. Feel free to make a similar switch.
– The smoked paprika dressing has become such a favorite of mine that I’m drizzling it over all manner of salads. It’s good on oven-roasted fish and over new potatoes. If you’re anything like me, you won’t regret making a double batch.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.