Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kinda-Sorta Tabbouleh and more

I think this recipe was born from half-watching an episode of Good Eats and forgetting the actual ingredients for a recipe. It's my own version of a salad that I call Tabbouleh. It's great for using up little bits of veggies that you have around or the tale-end of a party platter. I make a lot of it in a batch because my kid goes through it so fast.

3 cups (uncooked measurement) of couscous. Cooked according to the directions and let cool. Do yourself a favor and use reduced-sodium chicken stock instead of water. It will taste loads better. Also, stay away from the whole-wheat couscous. I've tried to like it and I don't. It also cooks up a little gummy and not great for this recipe. I also wouldn't add salt when cooking it, only because I like to be able to control the salt in my food. But honestly, if you salt the stock before adding the couscous, it will taste better.

In a large bowl, add

chopped tomatoes (you'll need about 3 large tomatoes chopped)
chopped cucumbers (about 2 large cucumbers)
chopped onions (you can use either green, while or purple. About 6 green onions, white and green parts. Or 1 white/yellow onion. If you use purple, use a little less than 1 whole onion as they are pungent. But the added color is beautiful )
2 jalapeno peppers, de-veined and seeded and finely chopped
about 3-4 shredded carrots
3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
I have also added chopped radishes, broccoli, and cauliflower because I had them left over from having company over and Parsnips because I had them on hand. You could add pretty much any veggie you like. I would stay away from cabbage though. You could add a little Jicima if you have it, but that will add a slightly sweet taste to the dish.

Toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl. What you're aiming for is kind of an equal part of everything. If you see too much of one vegetable add more of the others. For the over all dish, you're aiming for a 2-1 ratio of veggies to couscous. After mixing the veggies together, add the dressing.

Red Wine vinegar
Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper
Red Pepper flakes

Like with most of my creations, I don't use exact measurements. The dressing is not different. I eyeball the ratio of Oil to Vinegar and add in the lemon juice for kick. I like a more tart dressing, so I add more vinegar and citrus then EVOO. But basically you're after a standard vinaigrette dressing. I would save the salt and pepper to latter after everything is mixed. But add the Red pepper flakes (just a pinch for heat) into the dressing. Make more dressing than you think you need. Definitely more than for a salad. You want the veggies almost swimming in the stuff because the couscous will soak up a lot of it.

Toss the veggies and the dressing together and then add in the cooled couscous. Mix to coat. You want the couscous to be separated and coated. The dressing will help separate the grains. In the end you want to see more veggies than couscous in any spoonful. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill for at least an hour. The longer it sits, the more flavor the couscous soaks up. Serve cold.

My kid eats the heck out of this salad. I've tried to use a different grain, like Bulgar (which is in real Tabbouleh) or Quinoa (which I've tried to sneak into our diet for health reasons) but she doesn't grove on either of those. There is also another recipe that I've found for Tabbouleh that calls for Green Brown lentils and Bulgar but she won't go for that either. For this, sadly, I'm stuck using the pasta. I also have to keep soy sauce on hand because she has to put than in hers. With that addition, I think we're as far from the Middle-Eastern original as we can get.

Also, the vegetable combination and rough quantities above, I use in a number of other salads.
I use it in my chicken salad and my pasta salad.

For the chicken salad:

Bake 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves. Let cool and shred into a bowl. I like to shred the chicken rather than chop because I prefer that texture more. To shred it, just pull it apart and mush it between your fingers into a bowl. Clean hands, of course.

Add in the veggies from above. I prefer a 2-1 ratio of veggies to chicken because I like veggies more than chicken. Toss to combine

For the dressing, you can do a number of things:

You can go with Ranch dressing out of the bottle.
Mayo. And look, I diet as much as then next person, but reduce-calorie, fat-free mayo is not the same. And Miracle Whip is just plain nasty. You might as well just go for it and put the full-fat version in.
Either way, I would add a little lemon juice and hot sauce in with it. Also, salt and pepper and a little garlic powder (I prefer real garlic in most dishes but unless you can mush the garlic up very fine, you don't want to use that here. Biting into a piece of garlic is not good eats. With the ranch dressing, adding the hot sauce is awesome and gives the salad a hot wing sort-of taste. You could also coat the chicken in hot sauce before you bake it. That's really good.
As for how much dressing, you have to eyeball it again. You don't want tons of dressing in it, but you need some to help it go down. Start with 2-3 large tablespoons (because of the amount of salad you are making) and add more, 1 tablespoon at a time, until everything is well coated. You also can add some Dijon mustard in place of some of the mayo; that's good.

For my Pasta salad, just replace the chicken with some kind of cooked pasta. You want a least 2 pounds of pasta, sometimes 3. For this you want a 1:1 ratio of pasta to veggie. I've used elbow, corkscrew, bow tie, ziti, or any combination of those. I think the more variety the better. You can also get read fancy and get that multi-colored pasta. For the dressing, I use Ranch. Only Ranch, right out of the bottle or use those packets of dry mix. I hate the taste of pasta salad with Italian dressing, but than I'm not found of Italian dressing to begin with. Again you want everything well coated with dressing. I would also add a little more to this on. As the salad chills, the pasta will soak up some of the dressing and it won't be quite so soupy.

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