Saturday, January 2, 2010

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

On principle, while I find it very wanky when people refer to their “signature dish” (seriously people, you’re not Tetsuya. You don’t get to refer to your food as a “signature”), as the case often is, I’m actually a giant hypocrite, given that I do have a wanky “signature dish” all of my very own. However, I hope the accompanying tosser factor is lessened by the fact that my “dish” doesn’t actually come with a strict recipe; it’s very much a make-it-up-as-you-go affair.

As the title suggests, what follows is my (make-it-up-as-you-go) recipe for my “signature” Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad. Let me note that I recognise that people across the world have been burnt previously by boring couscous dishes. As my sister’s famous review of a particularly bland serving of couscous testifies, it can often “taste like sand”. A fear of ever creating a sand-esq dish has motivated me to refine this salad to the point of it becoming a total flavour explosion. And it’s so packed full of tasty things that it’s basically a meal on its own (“salad” is a bit of a misnomer). What I’m trying to say is that this dish is very good times.

Note: The way I grill the vegetables requires a barbeque. It probably would work using an oven grill to cook the veggies, but I doubt you would get the same smoky flavours. This is actually one of my favourite meals to cook – the principle being that in summer, if you can’t cook it on a barbeque, it may not really be worth cooking.


2 medium eggplants, cut into rounds, 1.5cm thick

4 red capsicums, cut into quarters

6 zucchini, cut into long strips, 0.5cm thick

1 large Spanish onion, diced

A lot of olive oil. A whole lot. Make it some good stuff.

300g couscous

½ bunch Corriander or flat-leaf parsely, roughly chopped

Pine nuts (optional)

Balsamic vinegar (or another form of salad dressing)


Turn on your barbeque. Get it very hot. Brush the cut eggplants with olive oil. Be liberal with the oil brushing. Eggplant tastes amazing with lots of oil, and somewhat average without it.

Barbeque the eggplant rounds until they are close to collapsing (approx 20 minutes). You want them nice and soggy, not black and crispy. Meanwhile add the quartered capsicums to the barbeque, skin side down. Once they have blackened and blistered, turn them over (approx 10 mins). Also, lightly brush the sliced zucchini with more of the olive oil. Once there is space on the barbeque, add the zucchini. Cook them til they are light brown and floppy (approx 10-12 minutes).

Once you’ve finished with all your barbequing glory, take your veggies back inside. Put the capsicums inside two layers of plastic bags. Leave them to sweat for 5 or so minutes. Meanwhile, chop the eggplant and zucchini into small pieces, roughly half the size of your thumb. Put these pieces into a large serving bowl. Once the capsicums are sufficiently sauna-ish, take them out and rub them with your hands til the black skins peel away. Then chop the capsicums to a similar size to the other veggies.

Meanwhile, bring 300mL of water to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add couscous, stir couscous for 10 seconds. Then put a lid on the pot and let it stand for 5 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, fluff with a fork and pour in some (more) olive oil. Return to heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly, to dry and fluff couscous. Once cooked, add to the serving bowl.

Add chopped herbs and diced onion to serving bowl. If adding pine nuts, toast approx 1/2 cup nuts in a little (more) olive oil, making sure they don’t burn before mixing through.

For a dressing, add several tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and at least one more tablespoon of olive oil. Grind in lots of fresh pepper and sea salt. Alternatively, you can make a dressing specifically (ie. with more ingredients [mustard, lemon juice etc] in a jar) before adding it to the salad.


Esther xx

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