Chunky is Good. Chunky is Very Good. – some of my theories on pasta
There is something I have to tell you. It is so crazy that I’m not really sure how to say it, so I’m just gonna put it out there – there are people in this world who actually think that pasta salad is all about (wait for it…) the pasta. I know! It boggles my mind too! …or maybe it’s just me.
When I see a pasta salad that is just a pile of cold spiral noodles with a few light sprinkles of bell pepper and dressing I honestly think – “Really? That’s what you think a side dish looks like?” I can’t help it. I didn’t grow up eating pasta salad but I do have some very strongly held philosophies on pasta.
First of all, a cold pasta salad is great for the same reasons all other salads are great: freshness + color + contrasting textures and flavors. I really believe that that little bite of bell pepper tucked into your pasta salad deserves more credit for how much it gives towards the success of the group. In fact, I believe that all the little chunks of “other” deserve more attention. Chunky is good my friends. When it comes to pasta salads, chunky is very good.
For any pasta salad recipe I’m generally prepared to double the amount of veggies and extras than is called for. More tomatoes! More onion! More peppers and herbs! I just pile the stuff in there with great abandon. I can get to a 50:50 ratio of pasta to other and still not reach the tipping point where it becomes a salad that happens to have pasta in it. So when I discovered Ezra Pound Cake’s Greek salad version of a couscous salad (originally posted from Tracie Farmer via Paula Deen’s cooking show) I was totally into the extensive amount of veggies present. So I set out to make some for a picnic dinner with my sister, my roommate and her mom.
I love Israeli couscous. It’s the big pearls rather than the tiny granules. I think the texture is amazing and it stands up to more chucky recipes. The best part of couscous in the summer – it’s practically a no-cook recipe. You only have to turn the stove on long enough to boil water in a kettle. Once you pour the boiling water over your couscous you leave it covered for 8-10 minutes and you’re done. It’s really that simple.
They may have put enough chunks into the recipe, but I can never seem to make anything without changing the recipe, so I did alter a few things. The original recipe called for lime juice. That didn’t make much sense to me with the Greek theme of ingredients so I changed it to lemons and added their zest. Then – as I prefer a little kick to my food and the Mediterranean was calling my name – a little white balsamic vinegar never hurt one of my recipes.
A little extra cheese didn’t hurt my feelings either.
Now this is what I call a pasta salad. You still get all the satisfaction from the pasta’s comforting filling, but you’ve packed it with flavor and textures and so many good for you ingredients. This dish is a balance of beautiful flavors with a little bit of everything in each bite.
This is my new instant classic favorite recipe. I am adding it to my recipe rotation after only one try and that almost never happens. Enjoy!
- 1 cup Israeli (or large pearl) Couscous
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water
- 3 tsp olive oil (split)*
- Flat leaf Parsley
- 1 lg Cucumber (peeled and seeded)
- 1 Tomato
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- 1 small Red Onion
- 1 can Chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
- 4-6 oz Feta Cheese (if you buy crumbles they generally come in 4 oz packages – if you crumble it yourself you can add more love to the mix. I mean, who doesn’t love the cheese part?!)
- 2 Lemons (zest and juice)
- 2 tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar
- Salt + Pepper
Put your couscous into a medium heat-proof bowl and add 1 tsp olive oil, stirring to coat. Then pour the boiling water (and make sure it’s really boiling hot) over the couscous and cover with foil. Let that sit for 8-10 minutes until cooked to al dente. Uncover, fluff with a spoon and let cool to room temp.
Meanwhile, dice your cucumber, bell pepper and tomato to a nice small dice – small enough to fit several flavors into one spoonful, but not so small that they can’t compete with your chickpeas. Put all your veggies into a large bowl and add your chickpeas and feta. Add a liberal amount of chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Zest both lemons completely and add the zest and juice of both to the mix with the balsamic and the rest of the olive oil. Mix in your cooled couscous and combine.
Let the whole thing rest in the fridge for a bit (no more than 3-4 hours) to let the flavors blend. Trust me it’s worth it. I know that bite you already stole was great – but this thing gets amazing! Enjoy.
*I found this was plenty to dress the salad – though the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup
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