Looking for something different in a salad side dish? What about something that is pretty much guaranteed to top anything that you can buy at the deli counter of the supermarket? Here is my suggestion.
It’s a simple couscous salad with cauliflower that gets an extra flavor kick from cinnamon, dates, and caramelized shallots. It’s a little nod to the North African flavors where couscous originated. To continue in that vein, this would be a great accompaniment to roasted or grilled meat. But it’s just as good alongside a sandwich or on its own, eaten at your desk as you steal a few minutes for yourself to check in on your favorite websites.
I use pearl (aka Israeli) couscous for this salad, as I like the texture of it and how it looks in this salad, but it can be a little difficult to find in some supermarkets. You can always order it online. Or you can substitute regular couscous — it will still taste delicious. You can also substitute the dates for other dried fruit that you have on hand. Dried apricots, prunes, and even raisins would be great here. Thinly sliced onion can also be substituted for the shallots.
So feel free to make this salad your own. The only real requirement is the cinnamon, and the sautéed cauliflower and shallots (or onions). The cinnamon gives the whole dish a warmth. And although it’s a bit unusual of a preparation for cauliflower (which is usually blanched or steamed) sautéing is the way to go here.
It takes a while to fully sauté the cauliflower, so be sure to be patient. Make sure that you’re working with quite small florets, the size of your fingertip is just about right. Add oil as necessary to keep the shallots from burning (cauliflower doesn’t have a lot of natural internal moisture) and keep the heat at a moderate level. You do want things to brown, however, and that’s what gives so much flavor to this salad. As you cook the cauliflower, the edges will brown alongside the ever-darkening shallots.
If any part of the preceding paragraph makes you skeptical, you can blanch the cauliflower for a few minutes in boiling water and then finish it in the sauté pan with the shallots. You won’t get much browning or caramelization, so you’ll miss a little of the taste, but it’s still a salad that will impress.
- 1.5 cups (298 g) Israeli (pearl) couscous
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into small florets
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, divided use, plus more as needed
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup (45 g) dates or dried apricots, chopped
- 4 tsp (20 ml) vinegar (sherry or wine)
- 2 Tbsp (8 g) parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Cook the couscous in water according to the directions on the package. When done, rinse the couscous under cold water and toss it with ½ a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large bowl.
- Heat the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, add the sliced shallot for 10 seconds or so, and then add the cauliflower florets. Cook over medium heat until the cauliflower is fully cooked (about 10 minutes) but not mushy (taste a piece to make sure!) and the shallot is nicely caramelized. You may have to add a bit more olive oil if it looks as though the shallots will burn before the cauliflower cooks fully.
- Now add the dates or apricots, a pinch a cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional few minutes, and taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Add the cauliflower mixture to the couscous. Then add the chopped parsley and the vinegar. Toss it all together and do a final adjustment of salt and pepper (or vinegar) levels to get the taste just where you like it.