Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Not-Quite-A-Grain Salad

In my early twenties I had the opportunity to live on my own for about a year.

I was in the Air Force, 2100 miles away from family, insistent that I would make do on my housing allowance on my own rather than with a roomate- and therefore living on a very stretched grocery budget in a very, very sketchy little apartment.
It was wonderful.

I had lived away from my parents before, for a couple of years with my best friend right out of high school.  I had held down a job, paid my bills, done all of that adult stuff.

But for the first time in my life I was doing it completely and totally alone.  No one to tell me when to go to bed or what to have for dinner.  I learned lots of lessons- like that paying one's light bill in a timely fashion is in general a spectacular idea (!) and how to dodge creepy next door neighbors.  But the most important thing to come of that period in my life was the amazing sense of self.  For the first time in my life I wasn't someone's child, roommate, or wife.

I was just Nora.
I ate what I wanted.
I slept when I wanted.
I decorated how I wanted.
I paid my own bills.

There are a couple of life experiences I'd highly recommend in life:
1)Work fast food when you are young.  Learn what it's like to work hard for your money and what it's like to be treated like you're nothing by customers- it will absolutely make an impact on how you treat others in the service industry throughout your life.

2)Live on your own, even if it only lasts a year.  Learn yourself.  Learn your desires.  Learn your interests.  Learn your strengths and weaknesses.  Learn your priorities.  Spend that time being just you before you bring someone else into the fold.

Anyway, back to my original point (I promise I totally had one when I sat down to write this!)- couscous is awesome.

Wait- what?
Couscous?  That was totally out of left field, right?

Well...kind of.

When I lived on my own there were a few staples in my fridge.  First, there was The Wall of Diet Coke.  Seriously.  Like half my fridge was Diet Coke.  Well...Wal Mart brand.  I did mention a stretched grocery budget, right?
Then there were lots of little containers of chopped veggies because I ate a lot of veggie sandwiches.
Lastly there was chicken broth- which I used exclusively to cook couscous.

Couscous kind of looks like it could be a grain of the weird variety I've been cooking a lot with lately, but it's actually itty bitty little pieces of semolina pasta.  Way smaller than rice (the Moroccan variety at least- the Israeli and Lebanese versions are somewhat larger), though you'll often hear the two compared.  It doesn't take anywhere near the amount of time to cook as grains do, either.  You seriously boil the broth (or water, or whatever other cooking liquid you want to use), dump it over the couscous "grains", cover, and wait 5ish minutes.  Fluff it with a fork and voila- you have a delicious, filling dinner! 

That simple.

You can add as many or as few seasonings, veggies, meats, whatever as you want to fill out your meal.  It's easy to adjust the serving size and only prepare as much as you want to make.  I went through a TON of that stuff when I was just cooking for myself!  :-) My love of couscous has followed me ever since.

I was looking at recipes to serve to houseguests this weekend when I came across this recipe from Susi's Kochen Und Backen Adventures for Confetti Couscous Salad.  I already had most of the ingredients so I decided to go for it.  Not only did the salad go over super well but I am SO enjoying these leftovers!

It's a light, simple salad that's also filling and delicious- couscous, celery, carrots, green onion, sunflower seeds- all tossed with a light vinaigrette.  It turned out well even though I realized at the last minute I'd forgotten to grab the almonds it originally called for and used sunflower seeds instead (leftover from that Broccoli Tortellini Salad I made a couple of weeks ago!).  

This salad is almost as pretty as it is delicious!

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous (I used Whole Wheat Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil variety)
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1/4 cup green onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sriracha
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Bring broth to a boil.  Add couscous, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and cool.

2. Combine couscous, celery, carrot, green onion, cranberries, and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, sriracha, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle over salad and toss to coat.

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