Saturday, January 8, 2011

Couscous Salad

Napa Valley, CA
Cold winter months seem to last forever. Would you hate me if I told you I love them? Well, I do. I love the snow and the way it has a habit of making everything look fresh and new. Of course the negative degrees ware me down over time and make going outside a bit of a chore. My poor wife is not a big fan of cold, but she does enjoy the activities they bring. One of the fun things that come about during the winter months for us over obsessed foodies is when we have “Food Experience Summit”. These dinners are usually hosted by a group of people who share a love for culinary food. The summits happen twice a year traditionally. It usually consists of 10 or more people who organize a Friday or Saturday evening at some location were the foods are presented or prepared then presented. It’s totally up to the individuals. Most people chose to prepare on site to demonstrate the preparation and presentation process, which many feel is a key element in the experience. I happen to agree with that.

I have both attended and been part of these summits. They are a lot of hard work and planning. As some of you may know that when it comes to food it is hard work getting to the end product. Especially when preparing for more than 6 people. It takes planning and strategic thinking. I recall one summit where the invites got out of hand and we prepared dishes for more than 60 people. That event turned from a summit to a work night at a restaurant kitchen. You see the key to these summits is for the home cook or chef to sit with the participants and experience the food with everyone. We discuses flavors, texture and sensations of each dish presented. Some may think this is food snobbery, but in fact it’s a learning event for the cook/chef and also the diners. It’s more so, what works and what doesn’t work, what tastes wonderful and what’s not so wonderful. Overall it’s a grand adventure in food and also humbling. Its not often we home cooks/chefs open ourselves to criticism and constructive dialog about our food. I think it’s a healthy part of growing in your skills and thinking about food.

My very first summit that I attended but did not cook at was not small but wasn’t big either. If I recall there was maybe 16 or so people. Of that 16 only 6 of them cooked and presented, of course we all aided in setting up and serving being careful to not impede the chef or offer any suggestions while they were cooking. That came after.

I didn’t contribute to any critique or offer up suggestions for changes mainly because I felt that these guys were many levels above me in skill and age. Who wants a young chef just starting out in there culinary career to season his so called “Pan of Experience” shooting recommendations on something he doesn’t completely understand. I think I chose the right path. In fact I offered up many complements and inquired of ingredients and the use of those ingredients. I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand how they made an ordinary flank steak taste so surreal and become so tender that it melted in your mouth as you chewed.
Executive Chef, Charles Sutton

After my first Summit I was afraid I would never be invited back because of my age and my question after question to the chefs. I was pleasantly surprised when I received my mailed invitation to the 2nd Summit that was held during the summer time in Napa Valley, CA. Hand written on the back of the invitation was a note from my mentor and Chef friend, Charles Sutton, “My colleagues have asked that you attend our summer summit. Your thirst for learning about food and your incessant questions have reminded us why we do this. I expect you to wear a tie this time.”

Estes Park, CO
It has been many years since those first 2 summits and I have hosted and also been part of a few since then. I’ve played with the idea of recreating them here in wonderful Wyoming, but they never seemed to gather interest. Maybe someday it might happen maybe not, only time will tell.

This recipe is something I prepared once at a Summit in Estes Park, CO. I have since modified it on recommendations from my peers to make it more appealing and a bit friendlier it can be be duplicated in the home kitchen or restaurant kitchen.

Couscous Salad

2 medium red bell peppers
2 medium yellow bell peppers
1-1/2 cups instant couscous
Sea Salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
1 large English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup Moroccan or other small, black, oil-cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 green onions, white parts and about 3 inches of green parts, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 pound ripe beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

Roast Them Peppers:
Preheat the broiler. Put the peppers on a sheet pan lined with foil and broil for about 15 minutes, turning once or twice to ensure they blister and blacken evenly. Remove to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool.

Peel, seed, and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside

Mixing it up:
Put the couscous in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2-1/4 cups boiling water over the couscous. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt and stir. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, or until swollen and tender.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin. Season with seas salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.

To peel fresh tomatoes, core them and put them in a pot with 2 quarts of boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove; cool under running water, and peel. Halve, lengthwise, and gently squeeze to remove the seeds.

Bringing Together:
Fluff the couscous with a fork. Add the cucumber, olives, green onions, garlic, tomatoes, and roasted peppers. Pour the dressing of your choice (not a creamy dressing) over the couscous and toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Almost Done:
Just before serving, stir in the parsley.

The only thing you have to be concerned about in this dish is overcooking the couscous by pouring on too much boiling water. Otherwise, this salad is very forgiving. It allows you to adjust seasonings and substitute other ingredients almost at will. A few suggestions are chopped grilled vegetables, sautéed mushrooms, and grilled or poached chicken are just a few of the ingredients that can be added to this salad.



karen said...

Well, if you would move your butt up to Chicago, We could put together a summit group in, say, 10 minutes. ;-)

§~John~§ said...

Dont think we havent seriously considered that 8)