israeli couscous with grilled summer squash

There has been a bit of a quiet countdown happening over here. On an almost daily basis, I’ve been reminding myself to make the most of these days, the end of summer, the end of my twenties. Stop. Take a few deep breaths. Be grateful. They’re going fast, these days.

Maybe you and I are alike in our efforts to savor these last weeks of summer. If so, I have something for you.

First, get yourself some summer squash, pick a few lemons from the neighbors tree (or the market), start up the grill and pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a beer, make your favorite cocktail – you get the picture. After a quick marinate in lemon, olive oil and minced garlic, grill up that gorgeous summer bounty and then throw it into a salad of Israeli couscous (not to be confused with traditional small grain couscous), feta and dill. Season with more lemon juice and zest, flaky salt and ground black pepper.

This little salad was born on a hot August evening in the mountains. I liked it so much that I had to make it again just a few weeks later. It’s bright. It’s savory. It’s summery. It’s one of my new favorites. It will be the perfect side dish for the end of summer shindig you’ll be attending this Labor Day weekend. It also makes a great mid-afternoon snack. Hold on to summer, grill everything in sight, dine outdoors, leave the windows open, pretend like it’s just beginning.

israeli couscous with grilled summer squash

serves 6-8

2 cups dry Israeli couscous

8-10 small zucchini

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided 

2 lemons, zest and juice 

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dill, roughly chopped

4 ounces feta, crumbled 

flaky salt

fresh ground pepper

Prepare your grill outdoors. Alternately, you can use a stove-top grill pan or roast zucchini in the oven for about 8 minutes at 425F.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise from stem to base. Place in a shallow casserole dish or baking pan.  Sprinkle the zest of one lemon and minced garlic over the zucchini. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of one lemon over the sliced zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Toss until all zucchini is well coated. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt. Add the Israeli couscous and cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the couscous and then spread on a baking sheet in a even layer to cool.

After the zucchini have been marinating for 15-20 minutes, place them on the grill cut-side down. Leave them on the grill until they have nice charred markings and are tender but not limp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from grill and set aside to cool. When the zucchini is cool enough to handle, slice into 1-inch pieces.

Transfer the cooled couscous to a large mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, juice of half a lemon, remaining zest, salt and pepper. Add the feta, dill and sliced zucchini. Toss until all ingredients are well incorporated. Add more lemon juice or salt to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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chickpea, cilantro and feta salad

With the long holiday weekend ahead, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘What am I going to bring to that barbecue?’ I have an answer for you.

This chickpea salad has been one of my favorites for a while now. I find myself making it at least once a month, if not more. Here’s what I like about it:

It’s full of chickpeas, which I love. They remind me of the salad bars of my youth. The chickpeas were always at the end of the salad bar next to the croutons and bacon bits. It turns out that they are an excellent source of fiber – definitely a plus in my book. You can use canned chickpeas for this salad, but I really like soaking and cooking dried beans.

It’s herbaceous, which makes it really fresh. A generous amount of chopped cilantro, scallion and flat leaf parsley provide a lot of flavor and great texture.

It’s terrific served alongside grilled meat and/or veggies. But it also stands well on its own.

It’s the perfect dish for non-meat eaters. It has a good amount of feta, which gives it a nice salty finish and makes it a bit more substantial than just a plain bean salad. Your vegetarian friends will love you.

It’s incredibly easy to throw together, especially considering that there are so many layers of flavor. Because we’re expecting gorgeous weather, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in my kitchen cooking or baking; this salad will allow me to get out and enjoy this glorious July 4th weekend.  I hope you do the same.

chickpea, feta and cilantro salad

adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros

serves 4-6

1-1/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water or 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans

1 cup olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped 

5 cloves garlic,  finely minced 

1-2  red chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1-2/3 cups crumbled feta

1 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

4 scallions, green part only, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

If you’re using canned chickpeas, rinse and set aside. Otherwise, rinse the soaked chickpeas, put them in a saucepan, cover generously with water, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat slightly and cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until they are soft but not falling apart, adding salt toward the end of cooking time. When cooled, drain and put the chickpeas in a large bowl, removing any loose skins.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and gently saute the red onion until it is cooked through and lightly golden. Add the garlic and chile and cook for a few more seconds, until you can smell the garlic (take care not to brown the garlic). Let cool completely.

Add the feta, scallion, cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice to the chickpeas and season with pepper and salt to taste. Add the cooled onion mixture and remaining olive oil and mix until well combined.