Is it really almost Thanksgiving?!…it seems like just yesterday we were frolicking about the lakes, chasing waterfalls and soaking up the summer sun! Although, it certainly doesn’t feel like summer amidst one of Minnesota’s coldest Novembers on record, so alas…I must accept that the days will only get shorter and colder for now. Do you think it’s too early to start counting down to summer? I suppose so, but it’s never too early for a countdown to Carnival in Trinidad—83 days baby! So when it was time to make a dish for a friend’s pre-Thanksgiving party this past weekend, I decided it was time to break out the rum, turn on the Soca and dream of warmer days!
Our friends always cook a few giant birds and host a rather large gathering of co-workers, family and friends at their annual “Turkey Rager”. I figured guests would bring plenty of the Thanksgiving staples like mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie, so I wanted to contribute a seasonal dish to share that would stand out, yet play nice with others. I instantly thought of this amazing couscous salad with cranberries, apples and herbs that I made recently when Kashmir and I took a vacation to “Canyon Country”. In order to experience some of the beautiful landscapes up close, we planned to spend much of our time hiking and thereby working up an appetite.
I gathered a few recipes and stayed up late preparing food to pack the night before we left—the only thing I didn’t plan for was sleep, which I only managed to snag an hour of! Kash thought I was crazy…but even he admits now that it was totally worth it, because we had 5 days worth of delicious, healthy, energizing foods to keep us going. An unexpected highlight was an Israeli couscous salad I saw Giada De Laurentiis make on Food Network a few months back. I initially chose it because we had most of the ingredients in the house and I wanted to use up some of our fresh herbs (which have recently taken over an entire wall in our dining room). I followed her recipe the first time to test out the flavors, but I’ve since made a few tweaks that I think really make this dish shine…and it was a major hit at the party on Saturday! It disappeared even before everyone had a chance to dish up, so I will definitely have to make more next time!
The beauty of this salad is that it tastes even better as the flavors continue to meld together, so it’s certainly something you can make the night before if you’ve got your hands full prepping for a party. I found myself saying over and over how fantastic it tasted with each passing day on our trip. Its almost as if you can taste each and every ingredient in a single bite. The sweetness of the apples and maple syrup harmonizes with the tanginess of the cranberries and vinegar, while the fresh herbs balance out the flavors and really enhance the dish—plus they smell amazing!! The vinaigrette is a snap to whip together, (especially with the help of my Chef’n Emulstir dressing mixer), and would be divine on roasted sweet potatoes too!
This couscous salad makes a fantastic side dish for lunch or dinner, but with its festive colors and seasonal flavors, it’s the perfect addition to any holiday table and is sure to please your guests! So go on now…make your shopping list and get cooking…Thanksgiving’s just 2 days away!
Herbed Cranberry Apple Couscous with Maple Vinaigrette
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 small shallot, diced fine (about 1.5 Tbsp)
- 2 cups Israeli couscous (a.k.a. pearl couscous)
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth if making vegan)
- ⅓ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme chopped
- 2 tsp fresh sage chopped
- 1 large green apple, cored + cut into ½" cubes (optional: sprinkle w/ cinnamon)
- 1¼ cups dried cranberries
- ½ cup pecans, chopped (or sliced almonds)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 3 Tbsp maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon sea salt, ground
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, ground (optional)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)
- In a medium saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned (3-5 minutes).
- Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid evaporates (~10 minutes).
- Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl to cool (set in fridge if short on time). Once couscous is almost cooled, add the herbs, apple, cranberries and nuts and stir to distribute evenly.
- In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper (if including), and then slowly whisk in the olive oil (or avocado oil) until smooth. Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a mason jar, cover it and shake until combined.
- Pour vinaigrette over the couscous and stir to coat evenly. Ideally, let the dish sit at room temperature or in the fridge for at least a half hour before serving to allow the flavors to intensify.
- This is a great complement to spicy and savory dishes.
- It keeps well in the fridge, but is best served at room temperature.
- Pro tip: It tastes even better as the flavors meld together, so it's a great dish to make a day ahead.
- Serves 6-8 as a standard side dish, but if serving as part of a larger meal, potluck or buffet, it can serve twice as many (but be aware...when word gets out how tasty it is, there won't be any leftovers!)
- Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis - Food Network
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