End of Summer Salad (not that summer actually ever started…)


Part of the reason—besides my procrastination—that I update so infrequently is that I really don’t know how to cook that many things.  Honestly, I have about six desserts that I make really well and about three dinner dishes that I feel confident about.  Nine specialties does not a blog make.  I have about 15 cookbooks, 100 back issues of Bon Appétit with all of my “must try one day” recipes tagged and six months worth of Food & Wine that started to magically appear in my mailbox and just as magically disappeared one day.  All of this to say that when I need to, I can follow a recipe pretty well, but god forbid I should be forced to cook a month’s worth of original meals on my own.  I am completely jealous of people who can look at a raw chicken and come up with seven different ways to prepare it without breaking out into a sweat. 

In an effort to get more comfortable in the kitchen, I try to take classes whenever I can. I don’t know that I’ve ever made one thing from any of the classes (aside from the couscous recipe below) ever again (sensing a pattern here?).  My cabinets are filled with all of the utensils I’ve sworn I’d use after the class—the mats and chopsticks from my sushi making class are still in the bag mocking me each time I open the drawer—and, like the road to hell, my kitchen is paved with the best of intentions.

Last winter I took a Moroccan cooking class at The Chopping Block with the hope that I could at least learn to prepare one entire meal that I could serve to people one day.  I don’t know who those people are or why they wouldn’t want to just eat out, but that was my plan.  On the menu that day was fennel spiced chickpea flatbread, Moroccan braised chicken with spices and apricots,  a date, saffron and mint couscous salad and an orange and saffron crème brulée.  I was paired with a mother and daughter who had some obvious tension between them.  The mother felt she knew everything there was to know about cooking and the daughter couldn’t have cared less about the class or learning how to dice an onion.   I tend to side with mothers in these little tiffs, mainly because I can only imagine what my own mother has had to put up with over the years, but after the mom tried to school me on pouring cream into a mixer and then tried to grab a knife out of my hand while I was “incorrectly” chopping dates (is there such a thing?) I understood why the daughter rolled her eyes every 25 seconds.  She and I shared a brief moment of schadenfreude when the mom poured an entire ramekin of saffron into our chicken (when we were supposed to use four strands).  The nice instructor’s head almost popped off, considering saffron can run about $10 a gram and Mommy Dearest had just poured about $100 into our pan of chicken breasts.

At any rate, the meal was actually pretty simple, and looks impressive enough to serve when those mystery people come over.  It’s a little much for a random Tuesday, though, which is why I’ve never tried it at home.  The only part of the meal I’ve duplicated is the couscous, which is the perfect thing to take to a picnic or make a batch of and have for lunch during the week.  What I like most about it is that once you get the basics in, anything you like can be added like tomatoes, tuna, or olives. I’ve also done it with orzo instead of couscous, which turned out just as well (add a little olive oil while it’s cooling). 

couscous 1

So if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm enough for a picnic this Labor Day, here’s your side dish.  Invite me over when you decide to make the chicken…

IMG_4096

 

From The Chopping Block

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron (I’ve never added this after the class)
  • 2 cups cooked couscous, cooled (can also use orzo)
  • 1/2 seedless cucumber, sliced in thin half-moon slices
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced very thin
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (it’s not until I started typing this that I realized that I’ve never added this ingredient and I don’t miss it)
  • 1 cup dates, rough chopped (I substitute apricots, because I like the color)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chiffonade
  • salt and pepper to tast
  • In a small bowl, crumble the saffron into the lemon juice and red wine vinegar.  Add the onion and let soak while you prepare the other ingredients (at least 30 minutes).

    Combine all of the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl and mix well.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.  Serve cold or room temperature.

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2 Responses to End of Summer Salad (not that summer actually ever started…)

  1. Linda says:

    This is yummy! 🙂 Maybe for our potluck dinners in the fall!

  2. avanfleet says:

    Why would I ever want to cook rice again with the simple and delicious recipe for couscous? The recipe works every time and there’s no danger of burning, as usually happens wth me when cooking rice.

    Your photos are beautiful and an inspiration.
    A. Van Fleet

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