Roasted Carrot and Pearl Couscous Salad

Here’s a party-worthy salad layered with flavor, that you can call a main course or a sumptuous side:

Carrot Couscous Salad Platter

This salad does not hold back on herbs and spice. Handfuls of garden herbs and a shake of the contents of your spice drawer build layers of flavor and freshness into this bright and festive couscous platter. Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous) is made of wheat flour and semolina which is rolled into tiny “pearl” balls and then toasted. The dried couscous, once purchased, is simmered in a liquid to soften. I like to toast the dried couscous in the pan first, before adding the liquid to simmer, which essentially means the couscous is doubly toasted. This extra step adds satisfying nutty flavor and golden color to the sturdy little semolina balls.

Carrot Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts

Purchase rainbow carrots for this salad, if possible, since they add a brilliant array of color to the platter. Choose thin carrots of uniform size to ensure similar cooking time. If necessary cut thicker carrots in half lengthwise.

Roasted Carrot and Israeli Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts and Arugula

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
2 1/4 cups water
Salt
1 small red chile pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ pounds thin rainbow carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise if thick
Freshly ground black pepper

Gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 cups baby arugula
2 to 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 lemon, plus wedges for serving

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add the couscous and toast over medium heat until golden, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the couscous to a bowl and stir in the chile pepper, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Let stand at room temperature while you roast the carrots.
2. Heat the oven to 425°F.
3. Place the carrots in a large bowl, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until lightly charred and crisp tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool slightly or to room temperature.
4. Make the gremolata: Mix the parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.
5. Scatter the arugula on a serving platter or in a wide shallow serving bowl. Spoon the couscous over and around the arugula and arrange the carrots on top. Squeeze the half lemon over the salad and sprinkle evenly with the gremolata. Garnish the platter with the lemon wedges and serve.

Easy Rice Pilaf

 Homemade Rice Pilaf – Quick, Easy, and Delicious:

Homemade Rice Pilaf - easy and delicious

When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock, and goodness knows what else – all set to prepare with water on the stovetop. The results were salty, addictive, and fragrant. My brothers and I would fight over who got to finish the bowl on the dinner table. One box was never enough.

These days, I make pilaf from scratch – and you probably do, too, without realizing it. The principle behind pilaf is that rice, or another grain such as bulgur or farro, is sautéed to lightly toast the grains, and then steamed in a flavorful broth, along with spices and a few aromatics such as onion and garlic. When ready to serve, the rice is fluffed to separate the grains and prevent stickiness, and handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped almonds, or chilies are added for extra flavor, texture, and color. You can choose to keep the rice simple or add the garnishes selectively to your taste. I tend to pile them on, because they add sensational flavor and freshness, while nudging an unassuming side into a stand-alone dish. So, before your reach for a box of pilaf in the supermarket with a long list of multi-syllabic ingredinets, remember that it’s really quite easy – and much cheaper – to make your own from scratch.

Homemade Rice Pilaf

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 as a side dish

2 3/4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Generous pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup orzo
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cup basmati rice

Optional garnishes:
1 scallion, white and green part thinly sliced
1 small red jalapeño, finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Combine the stock, 2 tablespoons butter, the salt, paprika, and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.
2. Heat the oil and melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a deep skillet (with a lid) over medium heat. Add the orzo and sauté until light golden, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and sauté for about 1 minute, and then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly to coat and lightly toast the rice, for about 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook, undisturbed, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes
4. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled over the top.

Elegant Sides: Pureed Cauliflower

A light and silky alternative to mashed potatoes:

Silky pureed cauliflower

Can you ever get tired of potatoes? No, you firmly say, and I would agree. Sometimes, however, a fluffy-creamy-comforting side dish is called for, and potatoes (shocker) just don’t do the trick. Usually it’s simply a menu issue, meaning potatoes are not a perfect match to the main dish. Think shellfish, for instance, such as scallops or shrimp. Or a cuisine that doesn’t traditionally include potatoes. Step in, cauliflower. There’s something a little magical about this gnarly crucifer. Eaten raw, its flavor is pronounced in an earthy, grassy, unmistakably cruciferous way. When steamed, it transforms into something else, morphing into a buttery, milder version of itself – slightly sweet, a little fresh, and beautifully enhanced with, yes, butter. When roasted, it becomes something else entirely, evoking adjectives which include caramelized, nutty, and crisp. I made this puree recently to accompany a dinner of slow-cooked lamb. It goes equally well with just about anything.

Cauliflower Purée

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

The chicken stock adds great flavor to the purée. If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can use water, but adjust the seasoning accordingly.

1 large head cauliflower, florets and core cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves

Place the cauliflower and chicken stock in a large pot. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and process until smooth. Add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper and process to blend. If the purée is too thick, thin with additional spoonfuls of the stock to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves and extra black pepper.

Lean into Winter with Root Vegetable Fries

Roasted Root Vegetable FriesRoasted Roots

When it’s cold and gray outside, it’s the season for root vegetables. We can count on our not-so-fair weather friends to usher us through the frigid months, gracing our tables and fortifying our diets with their sweet, nutrient-rich roots. These winter work horses are storehouses of energy, flavor and natural sugar – guaranteed to brighten up your plate and palate on a dreary chilly day.

In this recipe, root vegetables replace the ever-popular russet potato, and while they are called “fries” they are, in fact, oven roasted, so you can feel virtuous while you scarf down a batch. Mix and match your favorite roots and spices to your taste. If you can get your hands on purple sweet potatoes, give them a try – they have a slightly spiced and earthy flavor, and remain firm while roasting. As for peeling, I prefer to leave my organic root vegetables unpeeled, and simply give them a good scrub, since their skins are a wonderful source of nutrients and flavor. Roast one root vegetable or choose a variety for striking color. I like to use a combination of parsnips, carrots, celery root, rutabaga, and sweet potato.

Roasted Root Vegetable Fries

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds root vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, celery root, rutabaga, and sweet potato
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dipping Sauce:
3/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Cut the root vegetables into 2-inch batons, about 1/3-inch thick. Place in a large bowl. Add the oil and generously season with salt and pepper; toss to thoroughly coat.
2. Spread the vegetables in one layer on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast on the lowest rack of the oven until golden brown on the bottoms, about 15 minutes. Move the baking sheet to the top rack of the oven and roast until tender and golden brown on top, about 15 more minutes. (If desired, turn on the broiler for the last few minutes of roasting.)
3. While the vegetables are roasting, whisk dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
4. Serve the fries warm with the dipping sauce.

Thanksgiving Sides: Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Walnuts and Farro

If one vegetable symbolizes Fall and Thanksgiving, it’s the Brussels sprout. When these little crucifers appear in the market, it means it’s time to pull on our sweaters and plan our holiday menus. Yet, if one vegetable symbolizes dinner challenges, it’s also the Brussels sprout, because when these mini-cabbages appear on the table you can be sure they will elicit strong reactions from those who love them – and those who hate them. Hence the eternal question: in the spirit of holiday togetherness, how can we serve these hardy sprouts for everyone to enjoy?

This recipe might be the answer. Like all traditions that bear repeating, it’s worth sharing once again. It has a few simple techniques that may, just may, win over any steadfast sprout-hater. The trick is to roast the Brussels sprouts, which softens their assertive and firm cabbagey properties and accentuates their natural sweetness. Grapes are roasted along with the sprouts, so they coat the sprouts with their winey juices and lend more sweetness. A good shellacking of pomegranate balsamic vinegar towards the end of the roasting provides a lip smacking caramelized finish. Finally, the sprouts, grapes, and juices are tossed with farro and toasted walnuts, creating a rustic and satisfying dish, which is nutty, sweet, and not too dense with sprouts – but with just enough to satisfy the lovers and appease the haters at your dinner table. So give it a try and let me know.

Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Farro

Pomegranate balsamic vinegar is available in specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets. You can make your own by whisking together 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses.

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved (or quartered if large)
3/4 pound seedless red grapes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 cup cooked farro, warm or at room temperature
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Toss the Brussels sprouts, grapes, thyme sprigs, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle the pomegranate balsamic vinegar over and stir to coat. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the sprouts are tender and the grapes have begun to shrivel, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven, discard the thyme sprigs, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the farro and walnuts and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Easy Grilled Broccoli and Carrots

broccoli carrots

In a matter of a few weeks our farmers market has transformed into the vegetarian equivalent of a candy store. New leaves, baby shoots and spring bulbs are on display in miniature form as their growing season is in full force. In general, I like my veggies cooked simply, and at this time of year their freshness demands it. All that’s needed is a quick steam, saute, or a turn on the grill and you will have a simple and delicious side to any meal.

Broccoli and carrots pretty much sum up the ingredient list for this veggie side I made recently – plus a pinch salt and splash of olive oil for good measure. Everything converged on the grill, which in itself is another ingredient to the dish, adding char to complete the flavor profile. On the grill? Yes, if you are careful and lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grates to prevent them from slipping through. Better yet, if you have a cast iron skillet (which you should), preheat the skillet (or a griddle) on the grill, then sear the vegetables until they wilt and char, and you are good to go. Vegetables simply never tasted so good.

Grilled Broccolini and Carrots
Serves 4 to 6 as a simple side dish

1 pound baby broccoli (broccolini), ends trimmed
1 pound baby carrots, trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. If using a skillet or griddle, preheat on the grill for 10 minutes.
2. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil – just enough to coat without soaking – and lightly season with salt, then turn to coat.
3. Lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grill grates (or spread in the skillet) and cook until bright in color, crisp-tender, and lightly charred, turning as needed, about 5 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with additional salt and black pepper, if desired.  Serve warm.
5. Other options: sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes over for a nice bite and drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.