My productivity experienced a precipitous decline coincident with both the end of the school year and the advent of days topping the ninety degree mark. Correlation isn’t causation, but I think it’s safe to jump to a few conclusions here.
A bright spot, though, has been the family dinner, which needs much less in the way of labor during the summer. To pull off an appropriate dinner, I need only cook up a grain or pasta, add a few sauteed vegetables and, if I’m lucky, a salted tomato or two. I love how these makeshift summer salads roll from one meal to another with an added egg here or some sliced fruit there.
Thrift is also playing a big role in our kitchen these days. Brian and I are trying to stick to a budget, and with that comes the difficult choice to limit spending at the farmers markets. Where food shopping is concerned, it can be easy for both of us to go nuts, but lately we try to buy only what we need (I’m using need loosely here –– ripe peaches or raspberries are absolute necessities), and we replenish produce only after we’ve eaten everything we already have. Toward the end of the week, there are a few strange suppers, but I’m OK with that. We’ve also cut our meat consumption way back, with only 1 or 2 meat-based meals a week.
This toasted couscous salad, with sautéed zucchini, parsley galore, and a few grapes, is one of my best budget-minded kitchen experiments. On this particular evening I had no plan at all. I began where I usually do, with boiling water and a pool of olive oil in a hot cast iron skillet. Israeli couscous was at hand, so I toasted it. We had some zucchini, so that was tossed in the olive oil. Soon enough, a decent salad, with minced parsley and fresh lime was underway, and when I spotted a few leftover grapes in the fridge, I knew dinner success was at hand. My recipe doesn’t have any kind of protein, and I think it was a side salad the night we ate it, but to make it main course material consider adding feta, chevre, legumes, nuts, or a sautéed cut of meat.
Toasted Israeli Couscous with Zucchini and Grapes
serves 4 as a side
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups dry Israeli couscous
just under 2 cups water
1 shallot, minced
3 small zucchini, washed, trimmed, and sliced into 1/2 inch coins
1 cup grapes
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice plus a bit more to finish
a few twists of fresh ground pepper
In a wide sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and toast, stirring ofter. Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil. Once the couscous is a nice golden brown, pour in the water. Returning to a boil, add a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, turn heat to low, and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmery, add the zucchini and a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 3 minutes on one side and then flip and cook for 3 – 4 minutes more, or until the edges have browned and the zucchini is tender. Remove zucchini from heat. Add another drizzle of olive oil, along with the shallot and grapes, to the pan and cook, nudging gently, just until the grapes have wilted a bit and their skin bursts, about 2 minutes.
Prepare the dressing by whisking a tablespoon of lime juice into 2 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk in a generous pinch of sea salt and the lime zest.
Toss the couscous with the dressing, and then fold in the parsley, zucchini, and grapes. Plate the salad, finishing with a squeeze of lime juice and a twist of pepper.