Salads can seduce with a dash of difference

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Spring into summer with salads, but give your salads a role with dash of difference, a character variation.

Of course, salads usually seduce diners quite simply, with their irresistibly fresh vegetables and lightly tangy complementary dressings. But you can easily give salads a little extra allure by throwing in a touch of inspiration, preferably something that's already at hand, ready to use, on your pantry shelf. Here the common factor shared by a couscous salad and a sweet-and-sour coleslaw is an easy one: raisins.

The North African-inspired couscous salad is full of spirited flavor; it would work well for buffets or festive meals, and makes a good side dish for cold roast lamb or chicken.

Couscous Salad With Raisins

(Preparation 30 minutes, standing time 2 1/2 hours)

4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 piece (2-inch) fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated, or 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

2 cups uncooked couscous

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and diced 1/4-inch

2 medium carrots, trimmed and diced 1/4-inch

1 cup raisins

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped, for garnish

1/2 cup toasted, chopped pistachios or pine nuts, for garnish

Bring stock to a boil in a large pot and add the oil, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, couscous, zucchini and carrots. Stir the mixture and lower heat to simmer. Allow to cook until liquid has been absorbed (about 2 minutes) stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and add raisins. Fold gently to combine. Cover pot and let stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Drizzle the mixture over the couscous and toss well. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving, and allow 1/2 hour to restore to room temperature. Serve at room temperature, garnished with green onions and toasted nuts.

Makes 8 servings.

Sweet and Sour Coleslaw

(Preparation 20 minutes)

5 cups shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup thin 3-inch slivers red bell pepper

1/2 cup thin 3-inch slivers green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 cup bottled sweet and sour sauce

3 tablespoons apple juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup shelled sunflower kernels (see note)

Optional: 2 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled

In large bowl, combine cabbage, bell peppers and onion; toss to mix. In small bowl, combine sweet and sour sauce, apple juice and vinegar; mix well. Pour over cabbage mixture. Refrigerate until serving time. Just before serving, stir in raisins and sunflower kernels. Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top, if desired.

Makes 8 servings, of about 1 cup each.

Note: Sunflower kernels can be used either raw, or roasted for additional flavor.

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