This colorful spring salad is a delicious mix of couscous, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and arugula, all dressed up with spoonfuls of shockingly delicious sweet and sour Agrodolce.
(What??? You've never had Agrodolce? Oh my, you're in for SUCH a treat.)
Couscous Salad with Spring Vegetables and Agrodolce
THIS is my kind of salad. Packed with several kinds of fresh Spring veggies and dressed up with spoonfuls of agrodolce, it's a bright, colorful contrast of textures and flavors.
I think, for many people, the word salad has a bad rap. They probably grew up with that old tossed salad standard of iceberg lettuce, a few shredded carrots, and maybe a touch of red cabbage for color, served with your choice of bottled salad dressing.
I know I'm walking on thin ice here, because that's exactly the kind of salad that showed up at the dinner table of my childhood. Even still, I think we need to retire it. It's plain. And boring.
And no one really likes it unless it's drenched in so much salad dressing that you might as well be eating a big bowl of ice cream for dinner. (Mmmmmm.... ice cream for dinner.)
Salad can mean so many different things that it's a shame we ever reduced it to something so flavorless. When we think salad, there should be images of colorful fresh veggies, grains, flavorful greens, fresh fruit, roasted nuts, and (sometimes) rich meats, eggs, and decadent cheeses dancing in our heads.
Salad should be a delicious dance of textures and flavors that fills our bellies and nourishes our bodies, making us feel like we just ate something decadent and healthy all at the same time.
That's what this salad is.
What is Couscous?
Couscous is a kind of pasta made from semolina wheat. It's a staple in many North African countries as well as much of the Middle East. When cooked, couscous somehow manages to be fluffy, chewy, and firm all at the same time because it can absorb a surprising amount of liquid without getting all mushy like most pasta does.
In the west, we tend to treat couscous as a supporting character. But in many African and Middle Eastern cultures, couscous is the main event.
There are three main types of couscous: Israeli (also called pearl couscous), Lebanese, and Moroccan.
Israeli couscous is usually steamed, but can be prepared in the same way you might cook risotto - stirring and stirring while adding more liquid than you think those little pasta balls can possibly absorb.
Lebanese couscous is a bit larger than the Israeli variety, with the little pasta balls closer to the size of peas. I've never had the pleasure of eating or cooking with Lebanese couscous, but my understanding is that it's often cooked in broth with chunks of meat and plenty of herbs and spices.
Moroccan couscous is the smallest of the bunch, with tiny little semolina grains that are only slightly larger than coarsely ground cornmeal.
For this salad, I prefer to use Israeli Couscous. It's sturdy texture and size stands up well to everything else we've got going on in here.
Agrodolce - the secret sauce
Agrodolce is a sweet and sour Italian condiment that I am somewhat obsessed with. If I happen to have some in my refrigerator, it's probably going to be spooned over pretty much everything we eat that week. I just can't help it.
Like most condiments, there are about a thousand ways to make Agrodolce. It doesn't matter what method you use, because they are all delicious. For this salad, Agrodolce is made by toasting almonds in olive oil, and soaking raisins in vinegar and honey.
Add some thinly sliced red onion, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, and a healthy dose of fresh parsley, and you have a sweet-salty-sour-bitter party in your mouth.
Agrodolce is a simple way to add a colorful shock of flavor to grilled pork chops, baked cod with pasta, chili glazed chicken, and of course, salad. In this salad, a couple spoonfuls of Agrodolce is all the dressing you need.
A big shoutout to Beth Bowman of Bowman Ceramics for the gorgeous handmade plates in these pictures.
More delicious vegetable based recipes:
- Roasted Shiitake Salad with Oranges, Almonds, and Citrus Ponzu
- Cauliflower and Chickpea Coconut Curry
- Roast Chicken Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sesame Crunch
- Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Cornbread Salad with Italian Sausage and Tomatoes
- Niçoise Salad with Bacon and Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
- Israeli Chopped Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #alittleandalot on Instagram.
- 1 ½ cups dried couscous, preferably Israeli (But, moroccan will do)
- 1 batch agrodolce, at room temperature
- 1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lb asparagus
- 3 large carrots, ends trimmed and peeled
- 1 medium to large yellow onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
- 16 oz cauliflower, broken into small florets
- 16 oz cherry tomatoes
- 3 cups arugula, spinach or kale
- 1 large lemon
- Cook the couscous according to the package instructions and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.
- If you've made the Agrodolce ahead of time, and have been storing it in the refrigerator, let it sit out for an hour or so to allow it to come to room temperature. Alternatively, heat it in the microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring and testing the temperature, until it's at room temperature.
- Prepare asparagus by snapping the spears in half, allowing them to break where ever they naturally want to. Discard the bottom half of the spears, or freeze them for use in Cream of Asparagus Soup. Cut the tips into 1-inch pieces.
- Prepare the carrots by slicing them into strips that are 2-3 inches long and no thicker than a pencil.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add the carrots and asparagus to the hot pan, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 2 minutes, just until they are crisp tender and beginning to blacken in places. You might need to do this in batches to avoid over crowding the pan. Use tongs to lift the cooked veggies out of the pan and into a large bowl.
- Place the pan back on the heat and add about 1 teaspoon more oil if the skillet is dry. Add the sliced onion, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown. Use tongs to remove the cooked onion from the pan, placing it in the bowl with the carrots and asparagus.
- Put the pan back on the heat and add about 1 teaspoon more oil if the skillet is dry. Add the cauliflower florets, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté until the pieces are blackening around the edges, about 5 minutes. Use tongs to remove the florets from the pan and place in the bowl with the other veggies.
- Return the skillet to the heat and add 1 teaspoon more oil if the skillet is dry. Add the cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until their skin is blistered, 3-4 minutes. Dump the cherry tomatoes into the bowl with the other veggies.
- Add the arugula to the bowl with the other vegetables. Squeeze about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over the vegetables and toss to combine. Add the cooked couscous to the bowl with the vegetables and gently stir to combine.
- Divide the salad onto plates and serve topped with several spoonfuls of agrodolce.
*If you're making this as a part of Spring Meal Plan #5, skip step 2 and 3. Instead, put the carrots and asparagus you cooked and reserved earlier in the week into a large bowl. Top with additional sautéed veggies, letting the heat of the freshly cooked veggies warm the carrots and asparagus slightly.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g