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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Couscous salad with fennel, herbs and walnuts

This salad is the first thing that I have cooked from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! book. While obviously I should have boycotted this book on the grounds of the exclamation mark alone, its staggeringly positive amazon rating was reason enough to give it a go. Also, I really love the River Cottage TV shows, to be honest, I just want my life to be just a little bit more like River Cottage (and it might be soon :p). What I particularly liked about the season about vegetarianism was its honesty, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone who really did seem to be thinking about what a meal that wasn’t a lump of flesh might entail for the first time in his life. I would like to add that I am not actually vegetarian, but about 75% of all of my meals are, possibly more. I think that might be why I like this book so much, and Ottolenghi’s Plenty – they aren’t written by vegetarians. What Hugh F-W rightly points out is that choosing to eat less meat and fish can have ethical and environmental implications over and above the ethical issues surrounding having to kill something to eat it.

I never really liked fennel until I tried a fantastic stew made by superwoman Becky with celery and lemon, and now I can’t get enough of it.  With the herbs, walnuts and lemon here it creates an incredibly complex, savoury and crunchy salad, filling and balanced enough to be a meal in itself.

Please make sure that you use whole spices, toast and grind them yourself – especially as the spices aren’t being ‘cooked’, they need to be toasted to bring out their flavours and add a real presence to the dish.

Serves 5 – 6

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
I teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
300g wholemeal giant couscous, also called Israeli couscous, or moghrabieh
1 onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped, tops reserved
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
a small handful of mint leaves
75g walnuts, lightly toasted (if you can be bothered) and roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
walnut oil (optional)

Put the cumin, coriander and fennel in a dry frying pan and toast for a few minutes, shaking the pan to make sure that they toast evenly. When they are fragrant, tip them into a mortar and grind them into a powder.

Fry the vegetables and garlic in some olive oil a large frying pan for about 5-8 minutes. Fry them on a medium heat stirring often, so that they soften a little bit, but still have some crunch. Remove from the heat and add the spices and lemon zest.

Cook the couscous according to packet instructions in boiling, salted water – about 8-9 minutes. When it is done, drain it and mix it with the vegetable and spice mixture.  Allow it all to cool slightly, and then add the chopped herbs, walnuts and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Before serving add a little bit more oil and lemon juice.

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