It’s the season for social events 5 nights a week, which I love love love until I abruptly get the almost uncontrollable urge to go home, lock the door, and pull the sheets over my head for a few days. I’m not quite there yet but I’ve caught myself meaningfully eyeing off the bed and making sure there’s a good supply of reading material on the table beside it.
The last week’s been lovely though. Judy’s down from Pomona, and she came over for excellent conversation on Thursday night over a dinner of linguine with home-made pesto, a salad of cauliflower, slow-cooked onions, anchovies, currants and parsley, and some roast cherry tomatoes with spinach. She also sent me some Spirit House recipes the next morning, including one for tea-smoked duck salad that is now on my immediately-try list.
We went out with Ian and Lisa on Friday to the new Indian restaurant in Toowong, Ceylon Inn, where we accidentally banged noisily into a table and spilled red wine (separate incidents, both within the first 5 minutes of arriving and while completely sober), and I later tipsily tried to explain the mechanics of next-generation sequencing technology to Ian after the meal. Sunday we met Francesca for a relaxing meal and chitchat at the Tibetan Kitchen in West End and I renewed my love affair with their lime and tofu curry.
And on Saturday we were at Anne and Arthur’s for a great party to which I brought this couscous salad. It’s forgiving about being made several hours before being eaten, and also about being carted across town on public transport, bless it. It’s yet another variant of the grain/roast vegies/herbs/cheese salads that I keep making and lab people keep asking for recipes of and I keep neglecting to write down… sorry dudes, but here is one at last.
2 large red capsicums, finely sliced
5 slender zucchini, chopped into pieces 1.5 x 1.5 cm
5 finger aubergines, cut into half-moon shapes about 1 cm thick
garlic-infused olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
aged red wine vinegar (e.g. Forum) or sherry vinegar
1.5 cups pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous)
2 cups boiling water
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1 large bunch mint, leaves picked and chopped
1 packet feta, crumbled
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Toss the aubergines with several teaspoons of salt in a large colander and leave to drain for ~45 minutes.
Toss the capsicum with a glug of olive oil and vinegar and some sea salt and pepper in a baking dish. Roast for ~30 minutes, depending on size of slices, until capsicum is soft and brown at the edges. Set aside.
Toss the zucchini with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish. Make sure the pieces aren’t piled up on one another, so they can roast rather than steam. Roast for ~30 mins, until softened and golden. (If you don’t have garlic-infused olive oil, you can use normal olive oil instead and then add lots of crushed garlic for the last 10 minutes of roasting.) Set aside.
Rinse the salt off the aubergines, and toss dry in the colander. In a large saucepan, heat some olive oil over medium heat and fry the aubergines until they are soft and golden. This shouldn’t take too long (and they shouldn’t absorb too much oil) if they were well salted. Mix together in a little bowl a glug of the garlic olive oil, a glug of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon or so of cinnamon powder, and harissa paste to taste (depending on how hot your harissa is, this could be a quarter teaspoon or two heaped teaspoons). Add this to the pan and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat a dash of olive oil over medium heat, then add the couscous and stir until you start to smell it toasting. Add 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt. Simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The water should then be all absorbed and the couscous cooked. Add a little more water near the end if it is dry before the couscous is cooked. Now spread the coucous out on a large flat bowl to cool. Give it a stir every few minutes to break up any clumps and make sure it does not get gluggy. (I’m not totally sure if this is necessary but I always do it to be safe.)
Make a dressing for the salad by collecting the olive oil and vegetable juices from the baking dishes of roast capsicum and zucchini, and mixing into that liquid a little more red wine vinegar, some cinnamon powder, and some harissa paste to taste.
Toss together in a large bowl the vegetables, couscous, herbs, feta and dressing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.