06 October 2013

Couscous caprese salad

As we play the waiting game counting the days for our baby's arrival, I must admit that I'm starting to get a little antsy. His room is set up, his clothes are washed and most things on my "to do" list are done. I'm passing the time going walking and swimming, lounging on the couch (or rather the exercise ball) and catching up on cooking shows via YouTube and enjoying lots of good food - occasional meals out and of course my mom's great cooking. I also get inklings to cook some days, such as this afternoon. Today, I was also looking at several friends' photos from beach vacations on Facebook and thinking about how much I miss the beach. It's one of the perks of living in Thailand...we go for beach weekends and holidays pretty regularly, which I'm now missing being stuck - so to speak - in Bangkok in the midst of the rainy season. I also fondly recalled beach holidays from the past, in other places, and immediately our trip to Capri in September 2010 came to mind...

Capri, in case you don't know, is a lovely island off the coast of Naples in Italy. My dear friend Madonna (yes, that's her real name) decided that she wanted to celebrate her 30th birthday there that year. Thai beaches are amazing, but the Mediterranean is pretty special too. I recall with great fondness now the good times we had in Capri, the deep blue waters, the afternoon we spent on a boat, drinking lots of prosecco and good Italian wine, dancing in Anacapri (where we were staying)'s only club and of course all of the amazing Italian food that we ate. Capri is the home of insalada caprese, the legendary salad of tomato, mozzarella and basil which has become a hallmark of Italian cuisine the world over. The tomato-mozzarella-basil combo has infinite variations and shows up in everything from sandwiches to tarts to all kinds of appetizer nibbles. With some juicy grape tomatoes (regular tomatoes are sadly a bit pathetic here in Thailand - nothing to compare to those in Italy or France), pearl mozzarella balls and delectable sweet basil on hand, I decided to incorporate the winning combo into a simple couscous salad, tossed with a zesty lemon juice and olive oil dressing. The addition of corn is definitely not traditional, just that I wanted to use up some kernels sitting in the fridge.

Couscous was my grain of choice today, but this salad is incredibly versatile and could be made with quinoa, Israeli couscous, bulgur, farro or whatever grain you fancy. Just make sure to use the juiciest tomatoes, the freshest basil and the best mozzarella you can get your hands on. Perfect for parties, picnics and BBQs! My dear friend Madonna who took us to Capri, by the way, is now living in Angola (rather than France), the mother of an adorable little boy and soon-to-be-married. It's funny how much can change in 3 years...in this case for both of us... but our lovely memories of Capri and all the good times we've had together will always be there. As a matter of fact, I think I may make this salad the next time we're together...

Serves 4-6

1 cup water
1 cup couscous
Dash of salt
Dash of olive oil
1/2 cup corn kernels (optional)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup chopped fresh sweet (Italian) basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of Italian seasoning (optional)
1/2 cup pearl mozzarella balls

1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add couscous and dash of salt and olive oil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and set aside until the couscous has absorbed all of the water and cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Fluff with a fork, transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. In the meanwhile, cook the corn kernels (if using) in a pan until slightly browned. No need for oil. Add to the couscous and mix well, followed by the tomatoes and basil.

3. In a small bowl or cup, make your dressing, whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and optional Italian seasoning. You might want to make some extra dressing in case you plan on serving the salad later or the next day and find it to be a bit dry then.

4. Mix the dressing into the salad, stirring well to incorporate it throughout.

5. Add the mozzarella balls and mix well. Serve garnished with fresh basil.

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