Twice as Tasty

Chickpea and Vegetable Couscous Salad

Cinnamon-infused couscous makes a flavorful base for this bright salad packed with raw fresh vegetables and dotted with feta cheese

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

Last week’s recipe for Pour-Over Cinnamon Couscous has become the standard base for my couscous dishes. You might think that spices in a sauce or dressing would overpower the flavor, but the touch of cinnamon comes through because it infuses every grain. It offsets tangy ingredients like feta cheese and supports mild ones like roasted garlic. This week’s recipe shows just how well these layers all play together.

A dressing made with lemon juice instead of vinegar puts bright citrus notes in this salad. The dressing uses garlic as the emulsifier that brings the acidic juice and oil together. Roasted garlic has the same mellowness it offers in hummus, so I prefer it to a raw clove in this dressing. But lemon juice also has a mellowing effect on uncooked garlic; to reduce its sharpness, let the minced raw clove soak in the lemon juice while you chop the vegetables and then mix up the dressing.

You can use other raw vegetables in this salad, the crunchier the better. Try asparagus, snap peas and radishes in spring and broccoli florets and bean sprouts in fall. If I’m cutting up homegrown carrots and small lemon or pickling cucumbers, I leave them unpeeled. This particularly increases the cucumbers’ crunchiness, but leaving the skin on waxy slicing ones would just make them tough.

If I’m roasting garlic and cooking chickpeas for hummus, I make extra to use in this recipe. But when I’m aboard the sailboat or at a campsite, I pop open a can. Look for beans without added salt or other ingredients, and drain and rinse them well for the best texture.

Although I might back off the home-cooked beans, I always put the best feta I can find in this salad. This might mean making feta at home before we set out on an adventure, seeking out locally made feta as we travel or buying a block of sheep’s milk feta in brine and keeping it sealed and chilled.

Chickpea and Vegetable Couscous Salad

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Generous pinch of cinnamon

1 clove roasted garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, minced

3 carrots, sliced on an angle

1 medium cucumber, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1 16-ounce can or about 2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained

2 to 2-1/2 cups cooked couscous

4 ounces crumbled feta

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small jar, combine the lemon juice, paprika, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic. Screw on the lid and shake briskly until the spices are distributed. Add the oil, reseal and shake again until emulsified; set aside.

In a large bowl, place the onion, carrots, cucumber, pepper and chickpeas; toss to combine. Fold in the couscous until the salad is well mixed. Pour on the dressing and fold it into the salad. Add the feta, folding it in gently. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.