I’ve become a bit obsessed with couscous salad this past month. Perhaps it’s a delayed reaction to my Morocco trip…or cleaning out my pantry and finding a huge bag of couscous that I bought ages ago and never touched. Regardless, I’ve been having fun experimenting with couscous and creating various healthy, vegetable-packed dishes, much like I often do with quinoa.

Couscous is made from semolina (the same durum wheat product that’s used to make pasta) but is in fact less refined since it’s made from crushed semolina rather than the ground type. Traditionally, couscous features heavily in North African dishes and is eaten with stews (often including meat or fish) and is delicious when prepared this way. However, like quinoa, couscous is extremely versatile and tastes great, for example, as part of a colorful and refreshing salad (either vegetarian or not) or even served for breakfast (if you’re getting bored of oatmeal) with fresh or dried fruit, cinnamon and honey.

Given that it is essentially a small pasta and thus loaded with carbohydrates, couscous is of course a great food for runners. To make sure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck, try to buy a whole wheat or whole grain variety instead of the more common “just add water” pre-cooked and dried types made from white flour.

The nutrition facts for whole wheat couscous will of course vary depending on the brand you purchase and how you cook it, but a 1-cup serving of cooked couscous will set you back about 180 calories, while giving you 8 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron (crucial for runners, particularly women), 3g of fiber (versus 2.2g in the regular variety), 6g of protein and 1g of fat. Whole wheat couscous also provides you with a host of important nutrients found in the outer bran and inner germ layers of the grain, such as folate, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and selenium.

Lastly, couscous is super easy to make – as Martha Rose-Shulman recommends in one of her articles, couscous “should never be boiled (pay no attention to the instructions on most boxes), just reconstituted and steamed.” I remember reading that latter part and thinking that it sounded a bit complicated, but I promise, it isn’t.

All you need to do to is take a cup of dried couscous, put it in a bowl along with 3/4 – 1 cup warm water (or broth), add seasoning (salt/spices/lemon juice/ etc, depending on what you’re making) and let it sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Steam on high for one minute, fluff with a fork while perhaps stirring in some olive oil, and you’ve got yourself a big bowl of yummy couscous!

Here’s one of my recent couscous salads that was a particularly big hit – E named it Green Machine!

  

My Green Machine recipe, which serves three to four people, was inspired by Martha’s couscous tabbouleh. E and I had it for lunch during my coach’s workshop recently, and it not only tasted great, but also helped us get through a very tough afternoon tempo run in extreme heat! The various vegetables, nuts, beans and spices make this a very nutrient-dense meal.

Ingredients
1 cup couscous (preferably whole wheat)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh (or dried) mint
1-2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1-2 cups curly kale, chopped
1 zucchini
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (optional)
Small handful of raisins (optional – I like something sweet in my salads!)
Small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
5 or so mushrooms, chopped
1 cup edamame beans
⅛ cup pumpkin seeds
1 avocado

Directions
1. Put the couscous in a glass or ceramic bowl, and toss with the salt and cumin. Mix together 1/4 cup of the lemon juice and the water, and pour over the couscous. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring the mixture from time to time.
2. Chop your vegetables as you wait. For the kale, mushrooms, and zucchini, I chop and then microwave for about 1 minute. Then I saute in a pan with some chopped ginger and garlic in a small amount of oil, and set aside in separate bowl to cool, although that step is optional (you can put the chopped ginger directly in the salad if you skip).
3. Once couscous is ready, cover and microwave on high for one minute. Stir in the olive oil and allow to cool.
4. Toss with the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5. When ready, slice avocado and place on top of each serving, with a sprinkle of salt & pepper on top.

ENJOY!

If you’re a meat-eater and/or prefer a bit more color in your salads, then check out my chicken couscous salad:

I prepared the couscous itself in the same way as in Green Machine, but just added different vegetables and placed grilled chicken on top rather than avocado.

The possibilities are endless – have fun!

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