This autumn couscous salad with butternut squash, fennel, dried cranberries, currants, and sage makes a great light and healthy lunch, or can even be enjoyed as a side dish.
Salads seem like such a summer thing, but I’m bucking the perception with my version of one of my favorite fall salads. Say hello to butternut squash and fall flavors touched by a tart pucker in my ode to Whole Foods Market’s Autumn Couscous Salad.
Having a spot right across the street to make my morning coffee grab and go, (“Who wants to make a coffee run?”) then at about 12:10 p.m. take a quick, 5 minute walk for a spin at the salad bar, (“Who brought? Nobody? Cool, let’s make a run across the street,”) and sometimes a stretch of the legs for a late afternoon sweet treat, (“Hey! They’re giving out samples of Ruby Snaps, hustle it up,”) made my work days somehow bearable.
My lunchtime salads usually consisted of the same base ingredients: mixed greens, peas or edamame, beets (putting in my request here: Whole Foods, when will you carry pickled beets instead of the raw?), garbanzo beans, a few slices of egg and maybe a few other goodies including tart cranberries to offset fresh blue cheese chunks and spunk up my salad ways.
When fall hit the calendar, my favorite cranberries became part of one of their specialty salads on the gourmet portion of the old salad bar, and it soon became a staple to layer on my lunch as well.
I’ve wanted to remake this salad for the past two years, but it wasn’t until after I picked it up twice from the store this past week that I felt like I could figure out the secret to its flavor bursts.
Since Whole Foods generously lists all of their ingredients on their packaging labels, that part was done. But figuring out the proportions and the technique was where my Nancy Drew detective techniques came into play.
Israeli coucous, also known as Pearl cousous, is a larger grain than it’s tiny couscous cousin and is cooked in water like a pasta rather than absorbing the water or broth. Israeli couscous has a similar taste to pasta too, more nubby in texture, making it perfectly suited for a vinaigrette.
Fennel is the real enchancer in this salad, thanks to its light licorice notes paired with mellow shallots. Cooking these flavors with the butternut squash in apple juice, then spiking the whole deal with sage brings fall to its savory knees then smacks it right in the kisser when plumped up cranberries and currants join the apple juice hot tub.
This salad could be served warm, but I prefer it just like on the salad bar, or at room temperature, and it only gets better the longer the flavors have time to meld together.
Now that I’m working on my own from home this salad still makes my day, and while I miss my daily jaunts to Whole Foods, the view is much better from here.
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Autumn Couscous Salad
- 8 ounces Israeli or Pearl couscous , about 1 ½ cups
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot , diced, about 2 tablespoons
- 1 fennel bulb , diced, about 1 cup
- 2 ½ cups butternut squash , peeled, seeded and diced
- 3 tablespoons fresh sage , chopped
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup dried currants
- 1 ½ cups apple juice , (reserving ¼ cup of the cooked juice)
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon parsley , chopped
- Bring water to boil in a medium size saucepan, add couscous and bring back to a boil then lower to medium and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain in a colander, but do not rinse. Set aside in a mixing bowl to cool.
- Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Add diced fennel and cook for another 5 minutes or until fennel softens. Add butternut squash, sage, cranberries, currants and apple juice and cook for 15 minutes or until butternut squash has softened and almost all of the apple juice has cooked down. Season with kosher salt and pepper.Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the couscous, reserving about ¼ cup of the apple juice for the vinaigrette.
- In a small bowl, mix the reserved apple juice, canola oil, red wine vinegar and more salt and pepper to taste. Add to the coucous with the parsley and stir. Let coucous sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes for flavors to meld before serving. Add more sage if desired.
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