Couscous is a staple of the Middle East but is widely enjoyed all over the world. It is especially popular in Maghreb, a region in North African encompassing the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libra and Mauritania. This healthful grain is derived from the moistened semolina grain and coated with semolina flour. It is then shaped into small sphere-like beads. The shape of these beads vary and the more processed the couscous, the smaller the bead. Israeli couscous is usually larger in shape but equally delicious and a bit easier to make is the precooked instant couscous sold in boxes at your local grocery store. Since I’ve never been a huge rice lover, I use couscous in many ways: as a side dish alongside a piece of broiled salmon, as a main dish mixed with mushrooms and grilled chicken, or as a snack with feta cheese and kalamata olives.
The name couscous comes from the Maghreb dish “couscoussiere” where the semolina is steamed in the top part of a special pot and chunks of lamb or chicken, vegetables, chickpeas and raisins simmer in the bottom part. This recipe for the perfect summer couscous salad is derived from the idea of this dish. I also added some fresh mint from my garden to give it a fresh flavorful kick.
Fairytale Couscous Salad
1 box of Near East whole wheat couscous
2 large grilled chicken breasts, diced
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup reduced fat feta cheese
½ cup of green or kalamata olives, sliced
1/4 cup of diced red onion
1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint (or 1/8 cup of dried mint)
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon of cumin
salt and pepper
juice of 1 ½ lemons
Prepare the couscous according to the directions on the box (usually its 1 ½ cups of boiling water over couscous with a drop or two of olive oil.) Add in the raisins. Remove from heat and let cool. Once it has cooled, add the diced chicken, feta cheese, olives, onion and mint. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Pour over the couscous salad and mix well. Enjoy! (Can be made the night before – just chill in refrigerator and reserve the dressing for the next day.)