Last week was all about those ingredients that sound like they are going to be wholegrains but turn out not to be. This week is a little of the opposite – I have been cooking with cous cous. Now those clever foodie types amongst you will know that cous cous isn’t really a grain at all, despite it’s teeny tiny appearance, but that it is actually little tiny pieces of pasta. But surprisingly perhaps, you can get still get wholegrain cous cous; simply cous cous made from wholewheat flour.
The cous cous, sumac, pepper and date salad featured here is a very simple recipe. Everybody makes a salad like this every now and then – perfect as a side dish or as a packed lunch to take to work. Every time I make it this salad it is slightly different, however the ideas behind it are always the same. I have five broad categories of ingredient in mind to make sure that my salad provides a good range of nutrients:
A wholegrain – choose from quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, wholegrain spelt, wholewheat cous cous and millet or whatever else you fancy. Wholegrains are higher in vitamins and minerals than their refined equivalents and full of fibre. People often find that wholegrains are more filling than refined carbohydrates, so a wholegrain salad is perfect for keeping you energetic and wide awake well into the afternoon.
Fresh vegetables – any chopped fresh or lightly blanched vegetables such as peppers, green beans, radish, tomato, grated carrot, courgette, spring onion, red onion, cucumber or sweetcorn. All of these will count towards your five a day as well as providing vitamins, potassium and fibre. I like to include something that I know will give me a decent amount of vitamin C – usually red or yellow peppers. You can of course use leftover roasted vegetables, in which case how about complementing them with some chopped fresh fruit so that you still get plenty of Vitamin C?
Dried fruit – dates, apricots, figs, sour cherries etc will all add an appealing sweet note to your salad. Most dried fruits are very high in fibre and usually rich in minerals (particularly iron and sometimes also calcium).
Nuts or seeds – these provide healthy fats, more fibre and a little bit of protein. Most importantly they add bags of texture and flavour.
Flavour enhancers – a little something to boost the flavour. I used sumac, which adds a lovely tart note against the sweet dried dates (not to mention an exotic pink hue!). But pretty much anything goes; lemon juice, black pepper, fresh or dried herbs, chilli sauce, spices, seasoning mixes. The idea is to boost the flavour of your lunch without needing to add large amounts of calories or salt.
All of these ingredients are nutritious and tasty in their own right but I find that having this mental “tick list” of foods to include makes sure that my lunch is always well balanced and interesting – the wider the range of ingredients you add the more colour and different textures your salad will have, as well as plenty of nutritional variety. There are other advantages to following this plan; by eating your dried fruit and wholegrains alongside a vitamin C rich vegetable, your body will be much more able to absorb the iron from the dried fruit and grains. This type of cooking is also immensely frugal and planet friendly; with only a basic outline of the recipe defined there is ample scope for seasonal adaptation, fridge clearance and using up those odds and ends of dried fruit and grains in the cupboard.
There is a moderate amount of protein in this kind of salad from the wholegrain and the nuts; probably enough for most people if you are having a good source of protein at your main meal. If you know that the rest of your day might be a bit lacking in protein then go for the wholegrains that are higher in protein (particularly quinoa, spelt and rice) or consider adding a helping of fish, lean meat, cheese, tofu or beans.
A short aside
Kathryn Elliott over at Limes and Lycopene is running a fantastic series of posts daily through August called 31 Days to a better diet. Do check it out if you haven’t done so already; two of my favourites so far include this post about keeping convenient fruit and vegetables handy and this one about trying out one of those new ingredients that we all have tucked away at the back of our cupboards but have never used.
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How to interpret wholegrain label jargon and a summer spelt recipe
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Instant gratification – tuna, bean and watercress salad
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An earthy fig, chicken and mushroom salad
Recipe for Cous cous, sumac, mint and date salad
Mint tends to go black when it touches moisture. If you want this salad to look its best but can't eat it straight away save the mint to add at the last minute.
200g dried wholewheat cous cous
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper , diced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
6 dried dates, chopped
2 tbsp dried cherries
Small handful chopped pecans , roughly chopped
2 tsp sumac
1 Tbsp olive oil
optional: a pinch of chilli
Cook the couscous according to the packet instructions.
Add the olive oil and seasoning ingredients (pepper, sumac and optional chilli) and stir well.
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to distribute evenly.