Couscous is something I have always loved, ever since I first tried it in France as a teenager. Along with gazpacho, a vaguely original attempt at the whole shebang (veg, meat, harissa and semoule) was one of the first things I ever learnt to cook and it is therefore one of the few dishes I can make from memory. I only know one person who hates it, and even then he only hates the grain (he describes it as ‘cat grit’) so, whether you are making a salad with the grain, or a meat or veg stew with all the bits, it is brilliant for lots of people.
Until recently I didn’t realise that there was such a thing as a ‘better class’ of couscous, or even different sizes. I owe the first discovery to Daniel Young, of young and foodish, who asked on Twitter whether Dari was the best, and the second to the Ottolenghi cookbook (again; sorry!) where he calls it mograbiah and uses it in this salad with the ‘usual’ size stuff. Having discovered Dari in my local Moroccan (I think) shop, I compared it to the other one in my cupboard and I know what Daniel means; Dari has a smell (a good one I hasten to add) and it’s the colour of egg yolk, whereas the cheap grain smells of nothing and is pale but not as interesting. If you eat a lot of it I’d recommend hunting out this brand because it turns a relatively simple taste into something much better.
In this salad you can use both types (small and ‘fat’ as I think of it), or just the small one. The contrast of textures from mixing them is lovely but it will taste just as good with one type. I have massively adapted this, to make it more workable on a daily basis; I changed the cheese, reduced the length of the recipe and cut out the nigella seeds. If you have one thing but not another, it won’t hurt to cut stuff out or to add some leafy herbs (I added fresh coriander the second time I made it) or toasted nuts for a different texture. I admit that it’s longer than my usual recipes, thanks to the tomato-roasting, but it’s worth it I promise.
Couscous salad with roasted tomatoes, feta, caramelised onion and coriander
For four good portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
olive oil, a good few tablespoons for various bits
sea salt, table salt and black pepper
balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon
large ripe tomatoes, 8
light muscovado sugar, 1 tablespoon
‘fat’ couscous, 160g (or another 160g of the normal one)
large red onion, 1
feta (or other soft cheese like goat’s cheese), 200g
fresh coriander, a good handful (optional)
1. First, roast the tomatoes (as per August 30th’s recipe). Heat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan-assisted/gas 2. In a bowl mix together the sugar, one tablespoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper. Cut the tomatoes in half, put them in a roasting tin skin side down and drizzle with the oil and vinegar mixture. Roast until the tomatoes are practically dried out (about 2 hours). Put on one side to cool and keep the juices.
2. Caramelise the onion. Top and tail and peel the onion then cut it into long slices. Soften in a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and leave until really soft and coloured (about 10-15 minutes depending on your pan/the heat used).
3. Once the tomatoes and onion are done, or at least well on their way, start on the rest. For the ‘fat’ couscous, follow the cooking instructions (which are usually very similar to dried pasta, so into boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes until soft but not soggy, drain then rinse in cold water) and, at the same time, put the regular couscous in a large bowl, drizzle with some olive oil and table salt and pour over some boiling water. Stir to combine then leave to soak up the water. Test the grains after this and, if still too hard, add a little more boiling water and continue this process until it’s how you like it (I find this takes no more than 5-8 minutes).
4. Finally combine the tomatoes and their juices, the caramelised onions and the two types of couscous. Stir together then chop up the feta, rinse the coriander leaves, add them both to the salad, season and serve.