Shame on me. I should have told you about this recipe before the Easter holiday, not the day after, as it would have been the perfect springy side dish to accompany the ham and hyacinths. I’m also a bit irked with myself to be giving you two rutabaga recipes back-to-back since I like to mix things up around here. But, keeping with the reverberating theme of my spring so far this year, you go with what you have right now and worry about tomorrow when it gets here. So, today we have a delicately flavored Herbed Rutabaga Couscous Salad. And tomorrow? Perhaps an exotic ice cream…
I’m sure I’m not alone. I come home from work, open the fridge door, and blankly stare at its contents for a good five minutes with disinterest, knowing all the while that it’s up to me and my weary brain to yet again come up with something good for dinner. Sometimes I do a belly flop and settle for a veggie burger (hey, at least I cook it in a pan and not in the microwave). Other times, like last Wednesday evening, I am inspired and end up making an elegant swan dive from the fridge to the table. Now, the challenge remains to be get what was a “little of this and a little of that” invention into a repeatable recipe for you to try.
I’m a sucker for Israeli couscous and even more so for toasting Israeli couscous before boiling it. It’s something about the chemical reactions of the toasted couscous hitting the hot water and creating a controlled volcano that gets me grinning every time (well, it didn’t the very first time I made it as I wasn’t prepared for the deluge of boiling water on my stove…). Then, cubes of tender-but-not-too-soft rutabaga served as a nice sweet background flavor and the main soft orange color accent for the salad.
Good thing I took a photo of the next step as I almost forgot just now what I made the vinaigrette out of: white wine vinegar, honey (from Portugal), herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. Some suggestions for measurements are listed in the recipe below, but to be honest with you, I didn’t lift a single measuring implement throughout this whole cooking episode. I eyeballed the ratios I use for any base vinaigrette – 1 part acid to 3 parts fat and a little emulsifier (honey) to get everything to live happily together. Simple as that.
Next came the beans and soy bacon for a little protein (I’m always trying to be mindful of getting enough protein). And a little grated cheese because, well, I live (and would probably also die) for cheese.
And lastly, I threw in a dash of cayenne pepper just for kicks. Really, I think it was this final addition that sealed the deal, so to speak. The salad would have been good without it, but the extra zippiness it brought to the vinaigrette was no doubt the reason for the delighted inquisitiveness of those who had it at last week’s farm committee meeting. But feel free to use your own mix of herbs and spice when dressing this salad. Use whatever inspires you today, and your lunchtime self will thank you tomorrow.
HERBED RUTABAGA COUSCOUS SALAD
A Straight from the Farm Original
1 medium rutabaga
1 ½ c. Israeli couscous
6-8 pieces of soy or regular bacon, cooked and crumbled
½ c. freshly grated parmesan or asagio cheese
¼ c. white wine vinegar
1 ½ t. honey
1 t. herbs de provence
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried dill
½ t. cayenne pepper
1 t. coarse salt
½ t. freshly ground black peper
¾ c. extra virgin olive oil
In a large pot, bring 3 ½ to 4 cups of generously salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, peel and dice the rutabaga into ½ inch cubes. Place the cubed rutabaga into a medium pot and fill with enough cool water to cover by about an inch. Add a pinch of salt and place the pot over medium high heat to bring it to a gentle boil. Cook rutabaga just until tender enough to be pieced easily by a fork, about 10-15 minutes. Dump into a strainer and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Place in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, toast the couscous in a large skillet over medium heat just until it begins to turn golden. Remove from heat and add to the large pot of salted water which should be boiling by this point. Add couscous in increments as it will cause little eruptions in the boiling water. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover to cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess water (it will absorb most of the water) and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process and remove excess starch so couscous doesn’t stick together. Put on top of cooked rutabaga in the large bowl.
To make the herb vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients in a jar or a blender. Give them a good long shake or a whirl and then taste to adjust seasonings. It should be somewhat salty. Pour vinaigrette over bowl of rutabaga and couscous and then toss gentle to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors marry.
Just before serving, add the crumbled bacon and grated cheese. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Serve warm or cold. Makes a great leftover lunch.
(serves 6-8 as a side dish)