Italian Couscous Salad with Crispy Chickpeas

Bonus! This Italian couscous salad is really two recipes in one: one for crispy, spicy toasted chickpeas that are perfect for eating by the hand full and a second for a tasty salad that’s great either as a side dish or by itself for lunch. 

This couscous salad is packed full of awesome flavors and textures like chewy Israeli couscous, creamy mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and a simple spinach pesto. Making the chickpeas takes a little time, but aside from that this salad is really simple to throw together. I didn’t even pull out the food processor (of course, you can use one if you want to be rewarded with a much more delicate pesto. I was feeling lazy so I just chopped my spinach with a sharp knife. It’s a little more rustic, but just as delicious – and one less thing to wash and put away!)

If you’re just catching up, this salad is the last recipe in a series that I’m doing called the 10-Ingredient Tabasco Challenge. For the past five days, I’ve been sharing recipes using various combinations of Tabasco® original red sauce and nine other ingredients (chicken, onions, tomatoes, bacon, whole grains, leafy greens, dried fruit, canned beans, and cheese – with olive oil, salt, and pepper as “freebies.”) It was definitely challenging to be limited to those ingredients – I would have killed for an egg – but I’m really pleased with the way all of my recipes came out. In addition to being fantastically delicious, they all taste very different from each other and not just like random foods covered in hot sauce.

(And no, couscous technically isn’t a whole grain. But it was listed as an example of one in the challenge instructions, so I’m running with it!)

Since I’ve been posting more frequently than normal as part of the challenge – including over the weekend – I thought I’d do a little recap in case there are some you missed.

1) Chicken Thighs with Farro and Burst Tomatoes: This was the first recipe that I posted for the challenge and is where I discovered how awesome tabasco tasted when you bake it (I borrowed that technique again for today’s recipe). This is also the first time ever that Shawn had no only eaten tomatoes, but has actually asked for seconds!

2) Creamy Bacon and Scallion Dip: Simply amazing and so easy to make! This dip is incredibly creamy, and the tabasco adds just the right amount of heat. Plus, how can you go wrong with bacon and scallion? This will be a new staple in our house.

3) Smothered Chicken and Quinoa Skillet: Based on pollo fundido, this is already a fan favorite. I’ll be adding this one into our rotation of easy weeknight meals as well.

4) Stuffed Collared Greens: These collard greens, stuffed with sushi rice, shallot, and golden raisins make a great snack. I’ve also been enjoying them on top of salad.

5) Italian Couscous Salad with Crispy Chickpeas (recipe below): This simple salad is great for lunch. I plan to eat it all week! In case you’re wondering, there was no way I was going to get Shawn to try the tomatoes in this one. Raw tomatoes are pushing things just a little too far.

Italian Couscous Salad with Crispy Chickpeas

Author: Lauren Keating

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 can (15 ounce) chickpeas, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco® original red sauce
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 & ¼ cups water
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • ½ pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 ounces Ciliegine (small mozzarella balls)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • coarse sea salt, to taste

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Rinse and drain the chickpeas; pour into a mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, Tabasco, and kosher salt. Turn to coat evenly. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake, stirring occasionally, until crisp – about 40 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 1¼ cups water to a boil. Add the couscous. Cover and cook 10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool. Fluff with a fork.
  4. In a serving bowl, combine the cooked couscous, chickpeas, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
  5. Using a sharp knife or a food processor, cut the spinach into very small pieces. Mix with remaining olive oil and pour over salad. Stir to distribute event. Season to taste with sea salt and additional tabasco.

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Disclosure: I received monetary compensation to develop recipes as part of the Tabasco 10-Ingredient Challenge.

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Mushroom Risotto

This is probably the most voluptuous risotto I’ve ever made.  Thick with both cultivated and wild mushrooms, enriched with cognac, beef stock, and marscapone cheese, it’s pretty heady stuff.   Pair it with an earthy pinot noir and a crackling fire.

I used a combination of portobello and cremini, plus a package of mixed dried wild mushrooms.  If you were to use all white button mushrooms you wouldn’t get nearly the depth of flavor, so, tempting as it is to grab those pre-cleaned and sliced packages, force yourself to experiment with other varieties.  I have a slightly unorthodox method of cooking mushrooms, I saute them in a hot dry cast iron pan.  This method is so great because it turns the mushrooms a rich brown, concentrates their flavor, and brings out their ‘meaty’ texture.

One note — even though this is quite a sensual dish, it might not be appropriate for a first date.  For one thing, you’ll be spending the 30 minutes or so before dinner tethered to the stove, and not available to tend to your new friend.  And second, after 30 minutes of ladling, stirring, and taking in the rich scents of this luscious risotto, you might be a tad ‘dewy’, and focused on only one thing — devouring it.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but probably not ideal for a first date.  Other than that, this is the perfect romantic dinner for 2.

What You Will Need

  • 1 portobello mushroom
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms (about a pint)
  • 1/2 oz package of dried wild mushrooms, any variety you like
  • 26 oz container of beef stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 or 3 large shallots, peeled thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • a handful of fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
  • 1/3 cup marscapone cheese
  • more fresh thyme for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with warm water, according to the package instructions. When they have reconstituted, drain them and give them a rough chop Set aside.
  2. Clean your fresh mushrooms with a damp towel, or, if they are very dirty, give them a quick shower. Pat them dry and then trim and slice them.
  3. Put the fresh mushrooms in a dry saute pan and cook them over medium heat until they start to release their moisture and darken. Stir often so they don’t stick. When the mushrooms are cooked through, turn off the heat and set aside.
  4. Put the beef stock and the water in a saucepan and heat to just under a simmer on the stove. I like to add a few thyme sprigs so they will infuse flavor into the stock as it heats.
  5. In a heavy stockpot, melt the butter and oil and saute the shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes over medium low heat, do not brown them. Add the rice and stir to coat. Saute another minute or so, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the cognac to the pan and stir until it is absorbed. You should hear a nice sizzling sound when it hits the pan. If you don’t, your heat is too low.
  7. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and HALF of the fresh mushrooms to the pan, along with at least a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
  8. Now you are ready to start adding the stock, ladle by ladle, to the pan. Add 1 or 2 ladles (about 1/3 cup) at a time to the rice and stir until it is absorbed. Keep adding the stock, stirring until it is absorbed before you ladle in the next addition. The whole process is going to take about 30 minutes.
  9. After about 20 minutes, start tasting the rice. When it is done it will be tender but still somewhat firm. You may not need all the stock. I like to end with a ladle of stock so the risotto has a somewhat loose consistency before I add the cheese.
  10. When the rice is done, add in the squeeze of lemon juice, and the cheeses and stir well. Taste again to adjust the seasonings. I like to sprinkle in more thyme at this point.
  11. Plate the risotto right away, and top with the remaining fresh mushrooms and more fresh thyme.

Notes

The secret to a successful risotto is keeping the stock and the pan at the right temperature. The pot should be gently simmering at all times. If you add a ladle of stock to the pan and it doesn’t simmer instantly, your stock or your pot is not hot enough. You don’t want a furious boil, just a constant simmer.
The marscapone will make the risotto extra creamy, but you can leave it out if you like.

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http://theviewfromgreatisland.com/2013/10/mushroom-risotto.html

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This recipe is just perfect as is, but I know that many of you will want to make it a little differently, for your own reasons.  Here’s what I suggest…if you want to make this vegetarian, go with a mushroom broth rather than a vegetable broth, or a combination of the two, you’ll get better flavor.  You can also strain the water that the dried mushrooms soak in and use that as part of your broth.  If you want to use chicken broth in place of beef, I might substitute dry sherry, vermouth, or dry white wine for the cognac.  You can leave out the marscapone if you like, and maybe add a little extra Parmesan.  In any case, don’t leave out the fresh thyme.

Homemade Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

I am so excited about this recipe! Lately I have been surviving on simple meals since the time I have in my kitchen is limited right now. This homemade tomato basil pasta sauce recipe is really quick and easy. Making pasta sauce at home has always intimidated me. I finally decided to just TRY IT and loved, loved, loved how it turned out! I used fresh tomatoes and basil, some olive oil, garlic and some salt and pepper. This recipe is so simple, yet so flavorful! By making your own pasta sauce, you control the amount of sodium and what flavors you want. You should use is within 48 hours since it is not canned and does not contain any preservatives. I think it has the best flavor before then, too. I love heating some up and serving over angel hair noodles for a simple, light pasta dish.
Homemade Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
 
Save Print
Prep time
10 mins
Cook time
12 mins
Total
22 mins
 
Type: Sauce
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 5 tomatoes, diced (or 14oz can crushed tomatoes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 basil leaves, chopped
Instructions
  1. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and garlic to a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the tomatoes to a blender and pulse a few times (you can make it more or less chunky by how many times you pulse).
  3. Transfer the tomatoes to the saucepan and add the sugar, salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the chopped basil and remaining olive oil just before serving.
  6. Store for up to 2 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Makes ~2 cups
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