When I was a child, my entire concept of the salad meant iceberg lettuce, chunks of beefsteak tomatoes and a bottled dressing. Sometimes there would be shredded carrots on top for color and extra crunch. Other than that, dinner’s side salad left me unimpressed, disappointed and slightly angry. How can salad incite such passionate emotion? It all began with the lettuce. In a most perfect world, iceberg lettuce would be banished to the compost-grubbing worms of the world, never to be sold again in stores. The empty, watery crack of each bite liquefies any dressing pooled below and dilutes the sweetness and flavor of other fruits and vegetables in the mix. The worst part was the inner core that seemed to be a holding vessel for even more water densely packed in the cells of the leaves. I would often find myself pushing my fork around, dabbing here and there for the best parts of the salad that I could find. Usually, the plate remained fairly full.
Fast-forward more than two decades, and I have discovered that salad is a very general word for an overwhelmingly exhaustive list of dishes that fit the bill. The range of greens is never-ending. I’ve nibbled on arugula, romaine, Swiss chard, spinach, frisée, endive, dandelion greens, escarole, watercress and mesclun. I was lovingly introduced to pastas, beans and grains such as orzo, couscous, lentils, quinoa, farro, barley and bulgur wheat. Experiments with hard and semi-soft cheeses, herbs, dried fruits, nuts and homemade dressings came next. I was a salad machine. It was at that point that I realized a salad is more than just iceberg lettuce and dressing. It is a healthy expression of your current interests and longtime favorites with seasonal items on hand. It is far more than iceberg lettuce in a bowl.
Combining lentils and couscous as the basis for this salad makes it a very blank canvas from which to start. They cook quickly and can be made ahead of time to save a couple of steps with the recipe. Lentils are full of iron and fiber. Couscous, though it looks like a grain, is actually in the pasta family. It is a great source of selenium, protein and potassium. The almonds add crunch, raisins contribute a sweet bite, and the feta cheese adds a salty accent that plays well with the subtle dressing. This salad is perfect warm, at room temperature or cold.
Black Lentil and Couscous Salad – Serves 8 to 10
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as necessary
- Zest of 1 orange
- Juice of 1/2 orange
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 cups couscous, cooked
- 2 cups black lentils, cooked
- 1/3 cup almond flakes, toasted
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
- 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- Whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, cumin, cayenne, paprika, salt, orange zest and juice and honey. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until well incorporated. Drizzle the dressing on top, toss and serve. Season to taste with more salt, if desired.