Although I’m happy that the seasons have changed, I’m still trying to squeeze every last bit I can out of summertime. We’re in that very awkward time of year when a hearty soup seems just as perfect as a nice salad. Since I know I’ll have more than plenty of hearty soup in the next few months, I decided to give a last hurrah to the summer salad (though I’ll probably eat this year round anyway because it’s just good), and chose an absolutely delightful blend of Israeli couscous and green lentils as the starting base.
I had made a much simpler version of the following salad during the warmer months so that I could play with Israeli cous cous, but I never got back to tweaking it until now. Like most of these grains, Israeli cous cous is extremely versatile and lends itself to all types of dishes from soups to salads to entrees. If you’re not familiar with Israeli couscous, I highly recommend seeking it out as a fun alternative to the usual grains that are available. Each individual grain is a much larger, perfect sphere, and the finished product is quite aesthetically pleasing. I would say the texture is very close to orzo, though slightly more chewy. I had originally chosen both French green lentils and red lentils to go with the couscous, thinking the color and flavor combination would be quite lovely, but I decided against the red ones because they were too delicate for the type of dish I was making (I’ll explain what happened to those poor little lentils in the next couple of posts – you’d be so proud of me!). This worked out perfectly, as the hearty, slightly peppery flavor of the green lentils combined beautifully with the chewy cous cous and crisp veggies.
Now you may be thinking…. okay… green lentils are easy enough to find but wait, Poor Girl – where the heck does one even find Israeli couscous? Will I need a passport?
Don’t worry, I don’t like to make stuff with ingredients that are impossible to find (or impossibly expensive). Though this is still one of the darlings of health food and specialty food stores, it is starting to reach the specialty aisles of regular grocery stores. It’s a little pricier than regular couscous. At Trader Joe’s it goes for about $3.99/12 oz. and you can find it in the bulk section of stores like Whole Foods for roughly the same cost. One cup of the dry product yields around 1½ to 2 cups of cooked couscous, so you can stretch this out for a couple of different meals if you like. If you can’t find Israeli couscous at your store, no worries! You can use regular couscous instead, or even try orzo if you want to get a similar texture. The greatest thing about this salad – aside from how healthy & tasty it is – is how much you end up with from using just 1 cup of cous cous and 1 cup of lentils. The whole recipe costs just about $5.50 and will feed at least four people! Not too shabby, eh? And now, on with the show.
French Green Lentil & Israeli Couscous Salad (serves 4; total cost per serving: $1.35)
½ c dry French green lentils
2 c water
½ medium red onion, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
½ T finely chopped parsley
½ t finely chopped cilantro
1/3 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T olive oil
½ t minced shallot
Dash of granulated garlic
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 c crumbled fetaBring 1 cup of lightly salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add the couscous. Boil for about 2 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for about 9-10 minutes, checking to make sure the couscous has not become too soft. The water should be completely absorbed but if there is any remaining, simply drain it off. At the same time, combine the green lentils and the remaining cup of water in a separate saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Do not salt the lentils while cooking! This will toughen them and make them almost impossible to eat, so wait until they are finished cooking to season them with a dash of salt and a dash of granulated garlic. Cool both the lentils and the couscous and set aside.
Prepare the simple dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, mined shallot and salt & pepper. When the lentils & couscous have cooled, put them in a large bowl and add the chopped onions, tomatoes, parsley and cilantro, and toss together gently. Add the dressing and mix until completely combined. Serve on its own or on a bed of greens, sprinkle some crumbled feta on top, and enjoy!