Toasted Couscous and Tomato Salad

tomatoweekI'm ending Tomato Week with my Grand Prize-losing recipe for a tomato salad. Yep, as predicted, yesterday's competition at the Tomato Art Fest recipe contest was fierce and my tabbouleh-inspired salad didn't make the top three. But I'm still really proud of it because my taste-testers (including tomato-hating Mr. Eats) really liked it.

I debated what to enter for quite some time. I knew that being vegetarian would put me at a disadvantage--as Amanda of An Organic Process said, "Benton's bacon is like the truffle of the south"--so I wanted to have something really unique. My strategy included the following:
1. No cilantro. Couldn't take the chance there'd be a cilantro-hating judge.
2. No basil. This time of year, people are putting basil in everything.
3. No watermelon, corn, cucumbers, squash or zucchini--the other overly abundant ingredients I felt like would show up in a lot of the competition.
4. Vegan. I knew it would be sitting out for some time and I wanted a salad that would actually taste best at a warmer temperature. And nothing that would cause food poisoning.

tomato salad
look at those beautiful tomatoes

So that's when I started thinking about tabbouleh. Except I really don't like tabbouleh. So I started thinking bigger than tabbouleh (the opposite of the overdone "deconstructed," I suppose). Pearl couscous instead of regular couscous. Parsley leaves instead of parsley bits. Crispy chickpeas to give some additional texture. Big bites of heirloom cherry tomatoes. But what to bring it all together? I have a lot of tahini on hand, but it's a bit thick...ooh, lemon! Lemon will lighten up the tahini and really bring out the freshness of the tomatoes! So that's how it happened. And regardless of the loss (though the organizer did note that the judges like all the salads), I'm still really happy with what I made. It's light and healthy but still filling. And it tastes great.

toasted couscous and tomato salad
The heirloom cherry tomatoes have a such a great flavor and texture

A few notes: I used shallots instead of onion because I'm not a fan of the taste of red onion. They really gave a great depth and bite without overpowering the salad. But if you like red onion, it would be an acceptable substitute. And if you have no tahini on hand but you do have toasted sesame oil, I think it could also be substituted.

Definitely go for the chickpeas in the international food aisle instead of the organic ones. Like Goya or Ziyad. The organic chickpeas I fried got nice and crispy but were still mushy inside. Great for hummus, I'm sure. Not great for this. And use more or less garlic and parsley depending on what you like.

Toasted Pearl Couscous & Tomato Salad
with Lemon Tahini Dressing

serves 4-6

Lemon Tahini Dressing
3 tablespoons tahini
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (the juice of 1-2 lemons)
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a sealed container and shake vigorously. Set aside.

Couscous Salad
1 + 1 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup pearl couscous
1 1/2 cups water (boiling)
1 tsp salt
1 can chickpeas, drained
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
one bunch fresh flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (leaves only)
1-2 shallots, sliced into fine slivers
1-2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium low heat and stir in the couscous. Cook until lightly browned. Add the boiling water and salt and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and chickpeas and cook over medium-high heat until crispy. Stir occasionally and cover with a screen (the chickpeas will pop). When done, add to the couscous and let cool. Stir in the dressing, garlic and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the shallots. Top with the tomatoes.

16 thoughts on “Toasted Couscous and Tomato Salad

  1. I love every ingredient here...and we're always looking for more vegetarian/vegan dishes at our house! Both my dudes love tomatoes, too...

    1. Post author

      Yeah, and you could make a lot of substitutions, but the crispy chickpeas--definitely stick with those. Chopped big tomatoes would work just fine, cilantro, lots of possibilities...

  2. this looked mighty tasty yesterday + the beautiful pictures you took make me wish we had gotten to sample each other's dishes. oh well, just an excuse for either you to make it again, or for me to try it out!

    1. Post author

      Before tomato season is over (but after we get over tomato fatigue), we need to have a tomato party and bring our dishes!

  3. kimu

    Oh, excellent - I've been trying to come up with some couscous salads, but have been having a hard time figuring out the right seasonings. Will definitely give this a try!

  4. tabbouleh is one of those things i like the idea of, but don't actually like. this could convert me - looks/sounds delicious. my husband is Lebanese, and i plan to make this for the next family gathering.

    your entry was certainly among the most beautiful i saw. i agree that we should have a tasting party!

  5. christy shulman

    How did we both marry men who hate tomatoes? What a rotten bit of luck.

    That salad looks delicious. I want to have it for lunch RIGHT NOW.

    1. Post author

      Good point. I should amend that. Because they have these freakishly large, seedless lemons at K&S on Charlotte. Of course, upon reflection, I wonder what they've been exposed to...uh oh.

  6. Michelle

    I made this tomato salad with big chunks of large heirloom tomatoes (purple cherokee, bradley, and brandywine) and it turned out really well. I mixed them in with the dressing, too. Love how the lemon works with the tomato!

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