In this recipe, asparagus gets roasted and tossed with Israeli couscous, kalamata olives, feta and a lemony dressing. It can be served warm, as a tasty side dish to fish, poultry or beef, or served chilled, as a vibrant and hearty spring salad. If you're going gluten free, substitute quinoa or wild rice.
Tip: When trimming asparagus, hold a piece in your hand and break off the bottom end with your fingers. Wherever this naturally breaks is how much you want to trim off the rest of the asparagus. Sometimes this can be painful, because it can be 2-3 inches of stem that doesn't get used, but those ends will most likely be very woody and chewy.
Roasting asparagus is one of the easiest, tastiest ways to prepare it, second to grilling. Toss the spears with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest and place in a hot oven for 15-30 minutes (depending on how thick the spears are) and when they come out, they will be tender, vibrant, slightly crisp and delicious. Sometimes I'll drizzle in a little balsamic vinegar as well.
In this asparagus salad recipe, you can roast the asparagus (preferred), but if pressed for time, toss bite-size pieces of asparagus in the boiling pot of Israeli couscous, right at the very end, for a quick 1-2 minute blanch. Then drain together.
Israeli couscous, if unfamiliar, is similar to regular couscous in that it's made from flour, like pasta, but it's bigger in size and looks like tiny pearls. It can be found in most bulk sections of the grocery store. If unavailable, try orzo pasta. While the couscous is cooking, make the simple dressing.
Then, once the Israeli couscous is cooked and asparagus is roasted, toss all the ingredients together in a bowl with the dressing, kalamata olives, feta, lemon zest, pine nuts (optional). I like adding tarragon, especially in spring, but if it's not your thing, mint, basil, Italian parsley or other tender herbs work well, too. Serve the salad warm, as a tasty side dish, or chill it for later.
Spring Asparagus Salad with Israeli Couscous
- Prep time: 15 minutes
- Cook time: 25 minutes
- Total time: 30 minutes
- Serves 6, approximately 375 calories per serving
- 1-2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups dry Israeli couscous (uncooked); substitute with orzo,
- quinoa, freekeh or regular couscous (about 4 cups cooked)
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
- 1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (optional; sub slivered almonds)
- 1/2 cup dill or Italian parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tarragon (optional)
- 3 scallions, sliced at diagonal
- Zest from one lemon (divided)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Trim off tough ends of the asparagus. Lay on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and cracked pepper and half of the lemon zest.
- Roast in the oven until just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Cut into bite-size pieces. (Alternatively, for faster preparation, blanch bite-size pieces of asparagus with the couscous water during the last 2-3 minutes of the couscous cooking time.)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add Israeli couscous and cook until al dente.
- Make the dressing. In a small bowl, stir all ingredients together.
- Drain couscous and place in a large bowl. Toss it with the dressing, olives, asparagus, feta, pine nuts, fresh herbs and remaining lemon zest. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to your liking.
- Serve warm, or chill and serve as a salad.
- If serving chilled, taste the salad once more before serving and adjust salt, lemon and olive oil one more time as the couscous may soak up some of the flavorful dressing. ♦
Find this recipe and other delicious spring dishes from Spokane chef, caterer and former Mizuna restaurant owner Sylvia Fountaine at feastingathome.com.