Grilled Peach and Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil Vinaigrette / by Chelsea Zwieg

Sometimes I worry when I find a new ingredient that I am possibly the last person to try it. I am well aware that every one and their mother jumped on the almond milk train about 5 years before I did. (It's so good though). I finally bought a jar of tahini that I actually plan to use (I've had previous ambitious attempts that sat in the pantry for a year), I'm just a few years late to the party.  So tell me, have you all known about Israeli couscous for years? Have you been enjoying it multiple times a week while I lived on in a couscous-less existence? And if so, why did you not tell me about it?? 

For those in the same boat as me, let me introduce you to my new obsession. As you probably know, couscous is made from semolina (wheat) and is basically very tiny pasta. Traditional couscous is so fine that you might wonder if you are eating rice, pasta, grain or the tops of cauliflower. It kind of reminds me of quinoa, without all the health benefits. Israeli couscous on the other hand, is still small but large enough that you get some texture from it. And that texture is the most addicting, chewy, slippery noodle-like goodness you can imagine. Kind of like little tiny balls of super al dente pasta. Is this even sounding appealing at all? It's so good guys, I promise. 

While the texture is on point, it needs some things to spice it up (like all pasta) or it tastes like a bowl of plain noodles. So of course that means all things summer. Grilled peaches, tomatoes of every possible color, cucumbers and a heaping load of fresh herbs. Add in some goat cheese (or fresh mozzarella) and a basil vinaigrette and you have dinner/lunch for days. If you have any other farmer's market gems sitting around (cherries? corn? peas?) or leftover meat from the grill (chicken, salmon, shrimp, steak, it doesn't matter) toss it all in. When the entire flavor of a salad is focused on summer, you can't really go wrong. 

And if I'm the last person on the planet to fall in love with couscous? Well, oops. Guess I'll just have to make it again to make up for lost time. 

Grilled Peach and Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

| Ingredients

For the salad: 

  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (sometimes sold as pearl couscous)
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced (I'm partial to the golden or orange ones) 
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs, chopped (basil, cilantro, parsley...whatever looks the freshest or whatever flavors you love. I used cilantro)
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, torn into bits (you can also use fresh mozzarella

For the basil vinaigrette: 

  • 1/4 cup tightly packed basil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper

| Instructions

Prepare couscous according to the package directions. Once cooked, drain couscous and run under cold water. Once drained toss with a drizzle of olive oil (less than a tsp.) to keep it from clumping together. Let cool. 

Meanwhile, slice peaches into half and remove pits. Brush with olive oil and grill, cut side down on a grill over high heat until charred but not completely soft, about 3 minutes. You can also do the same in a grill pan, cast iron skillet (minus the grill marks) or a panini press. The panini press is my go-to pretend grill. While you are grilling peaches, you might want to grill up a few extra to eat with vanilla ice cream. Just saying. 

Let peaches cool and slice into smaller pieces. Add to couscous along with tomatoes, cucumber and herbs. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss gently to distribute. 

To make the dressing, add basil, oil, vinegar, shallot and mustard to a blender. Blend until smooth and only very small flecks of basil remain. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. 

Dress salad right before serving or serve dressing on the side. You might have a little extra dressing. Keep leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge. I think think this salad is just as good a few days down the road, which I love.