A delicious reward when it’s too hot to cook

When I think of summer, I don’t think of cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook. But this time of year, there are so many other fabulous things to do that standing at the kitchen counter or over the stove simply pales in comparison.

But what can you do? You’ve got to eat, which means you’ve got to go to the grocery store and jockey for position with glassy-eyed, sunbaked, bathing-suit clad tourists who maneuver in the aisles like they drive on Interstate 95. I find a defensive posture serves me well in both places.

My husband and I used to live on burgers and hot dogs from the grill, corn on the cob and fresh tomato slices during the summer. Although we still enjoy these delicacies on occasion, we’re trying to maintain a healthier routine fare. We’ve been eating a lot of big salads with some kind of grilled meat, everything from your basic chicken Caesar to an incredible spinach, asparagus and shrimp salad he made for me on a recent weekend. So good.

I’ve been poring over recipes for these hot, humid days we’ve been having lately, ones that are delicious, without tons of mayonnaise, and don’t require too much shopping or cooking. I’ve experimented with an orzo salad dressed with broccoli pesto. I’ve tried a tasty, spicy pineapple and tomato salad. And I’ve been cooking vegetables on the grill, dressing them with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and serving them warm the first time, then cold as leftovers.

But then I came across this tried-and-true favorite in my recipe cache. My sister-in-law, Stevi, brought this salad to a picnic at our house one summer. I liked it so much, I asked her for the recipe and have been making it ever since. It goes particularly well with grilled lamb, but it’s also wonderful by itself as a snack.

The chickpeas, spices and sweet and tangy dressing (with one surprising ingredient) work so well with the creamy couscous, the tender-crisp peppers and onions, and the rich, sweet cherries. It’s another recipe that tastes much better than you’d imagine, given how easy it is to make.

Enjoy, and thanks, Stevi!


Moroccan Couscous & Chickpea Salad

Serves six

1 cup couscous

½ cup dried cherries

1 cup boiling water

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large orange bell pepper, cut into bite-size sticks (yellow pepper works fine, too.)

1 large onion, halved around its equator and cut into thin slices (We use red onion.)

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Salt and ground black pepper

1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (We’re not fans, so we leave it out.)

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

Place couscous and dried cherries in a medium bowl. Add boiling water. Immediately cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit until water is completely absorbed, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers and onions, sautéing until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes, seasoning with cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper as they cook. Add to couscous, along with chickpeas and cilantro, if using.

Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with vinegar and orange juice concentrate. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

PER SERVING: 343 calories, 9g protein, 49g carbohydrates, 13g fat (1.6g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 5g fiber, 206 mg sodium.

Original recipe by Brain Leatart for USA Weekend.

Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

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