Couscous – which we should call oatmeal – is a perfect base to create different types of dishes and a very good resource to prepare a meal in a short time. Combined with different vegetables, legumes, eggs, fruits, nuts, pickles and many other ingredients, you can make a wide variety of salads to eat as a single dish or as a side dish. The most common oatmeal in Spain is refined wheat, but you can use whole wheat or corn (if you don’t like it, switch to quinoa, rice, bulgur or even pasta).
It is important that the oatmeal is cooked properly so that the salads are not boiled. To do this, I recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions – a little more water than semolina is usually used – or steam it. If you want the salads to be completely cold, try to prepare the couscous a little earlier so that it loses its temperature.
The following salads do not have strict quantities, but you can consider that about 50 g of dry couscous per person is enough (you can add a little more if it is a single dish). As for the rest of the ingredients, play with them according to your taste, adding, removing or using different sauces or cooking methods. Couscous has the amazing ability to take almost any flavor well, so it’s a great opportunity to unleash your culinary creativity.
Cherry tomatoes, corn, arugula and eggs
We started with a warm salad. Cook the couscous on one side and on the other hand cook as many eggs as you have in boiling water (if you remove them and cool them well after seven minutes they will have a creamy yolk and peel easily). Meanwhile, heat a pan over high heat, add a little olive oil, two or three generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let the tomatoes stand, stirring occasionally. When they are marked, lower the heat and pierce each one with a knife. Add a small tin of corn kernels, a minced clove of garlic, a sprig of rosemary (or whatever herb you like) and a teaspoon of butter. Cover again and cook for three to four minutes until the tomatoes are soft. In a bowl, mix the couscous, a couple of handfuls of arugula or lamb’s lettuce and tomatoes. Separately, prepare a dressing with four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, two tablespoons of vinegar, one teaspoon of old mustard and half a teaspoon of salt. Add to the salad and mix gently. Serve on plates and finish with the poached egg on top with a little salt and pepper.
Chickpeas, tomatoes, pepper and pickles
Here we turn to useful canned vegetables. Prepare the couscous and reserve. Cut half a red onion or spring onion, place in a bowl and add three tablespoons of white wine or apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt. Mix it well and let it stand for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a tomato, a green or red pepper and a brunoise carrot (small cubes). Mix everything in a bowl along with the drained cooked chickpeas, couscous and some chopped pickles and add extra virgin olive oil and salt. Drain the onion to remove the vinegar and add to the salad. If you want to save the pickling step, you can buy pickled onions and add them cut in half. This salad goes very well with sardines, bonito or canned mackerel.
Zucchini, peas, lemon and mint
This is a very fresh, light salad and perfect as an accompaniment to grilled, baked or grilled fish. Prepare the couscous and reserve. With a peeler, cut a few strips from the well-washed skin of a lemon. Cut these strips with a sharp knife into thin slices, 1 or 2 mm, and place them in a container with half a teaspoon of salt. On the other hand, with a peeler we cut a zucchini into thin slices and put them in a bowl with the juice of the same lemon. Add the couscous, peas (pre-cooked if fresh, thawed if frozen) and a few chopped mint leaves. Add extra virgin olive oil and salt. Run the strips of lemon peel under water to remove excess salt. Serve the salad on plates or a tray and finish with the lemon zest, a few chillies (optional) and a few extra mint leaves.
Spicy cucumber and feta
Refreshing, slightly spicy and bitter. Good as a side dish at a barbecue on a hot summer day. Prepare the couscous and reserve. Cut a cucumber into 3 or 4 mm slices and place in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of white vinegar, mix and let it sit for 15 minutes. After this time, remove the excess liquid. In a jar with a lid, prepare the dressing with 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of honey, freshly ground black pepper and chili powder or any other spice or hot sauce you like (we don’t add salt because cucumbers and feta already have enough). Shake vigorously and add to the cucumbers. Add the couscous and mix everything well. Finish with crumbled feta cheese on top and a drizzle of extra olive oil. You can also add some chopped peanuts and/or the green part of a roasted onion to this salad. And if you want to give it a more Asian touch, you can marinate the cucumber with soy sauce instead of salt and use rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar.
Beets, carrots, white beans and herbs
In this salad we can use the beets as we wish: raw, pickled or cooked. If you are going to use it raw, wash it well, peel it and cut it into thin slices with a mandoline. If you are going to use pickled beets, they are probably already cut, and if you are going to choose cooked ones, cut them into cubes or slices. Mix in a bowl with the carrot – also mandolin-sliced or grated – cooked white beans, cooked couscous and a handful of your favorite fresh chopped herbs. You can dress it with just oil, salt and vinegar or prepare a vinaigrette of yogurt or tahini, lemon and garlic.
Fennel, apricots, olives, walnuts and raisins
With this salad we go towards the flavors of the Middle East. Prepare the couscous and reserve. Remove and reserve the green part of the fennel, remove the base, cut into quarters lengthwise and remove the tougher central part. Cut the rest of the bulb into fine julienne, put it in a bowl, add a little salt to soften a little, olive oil and mix. In another bowl, prepare the dressing by mixing well 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of sherry vinegar, a handful of chopped walnuts, a handful of chopped raisins and salt. In a bowl, mix the couscous with 4 or 5 fresh apricots cut into eighths, the black olives and the dressing (reserve some for serving). Serve the mixture on plates or in a tray and finish with the fennel on top, some of its green leaves and the rest of the dressing.
Pico de gallo, avocado and shrimp
Prepare the couscous and reserve. Make a traditional pico de gallo as taught in this video. Saute some shrimp in a pan over high heat with oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix the couscous, pico de gallo, warm shrimp and a large diced avocado in a bowl. Make a dressing with light olive oil, lime juice and salt. We add it to the container and mix it. Serve and top with some extra cilantro. If you don’t like or don’t eat shrimp, you can substitute cooked black beans.