It's funny, to me, how certain memories are forever etched in the recesses of our minds, and the most unexpected little thing can transport us back to a specific moment in time. This delicious salad has done that for me, taking me back to my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.
Years ago, I was traveling by train through the mountains in northern Italy, when suddenly, everything went pitch black. Bewildered for a moment, I quickly realized we'd entered a tunnel. The darkness seemed to go on forever, and just when I was beginning to think it would never end, there was a brilliant flash of light. We emerged from the tunnel and there, right in front of me, was an amazing spectacle; a dazzlingly, brilliant sea of turquoise. I gasped, not believing my eyes; crystal clear waters, sparkling and dancing in the warm summer sun, ringed by sandy white beaches and lovely verdant hillsides.
I find myself forever craving the wonderful flavors of that delightful, sun-drenched region of the world, so I decided to create a salad earlier this week and include my favorite Mediterranean ingredients. I pulled out tomatoes, a seedless cucumber, red onion, Kalamata olives, Feta and lots of fresh herbs. For a bit of heartiness (and because we LOVE pasta) I included some Israeli couscous.
With a simple throw-it-all-in-a-jar-and-shake dressing; fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, a squirt of honey, garlic, sea salt and pepper, it was a fabulous summer meal. Perfect with any type of grilled entree, it also keeps well and we've been enjoying it these past few days for lunch.
Each time I taste it, I'm transported to another part of the world .......... where olive and lemon trees grow on hillsides, days are unendingly beautiful and unclouded and aqua-hued waters lap sun-bleached beaches. Want to go? Put together a bowl of this delicious Mediterranean Chopped Salad - I'll meet you there!
P.S. If you've never tried French Feta, you'll flip over it. It's super creamy, a bit less salty and well, let's just say, totally amazing. Well worth the effort of going out of the way for. If you have a Whole Foods nearby, you can usually find it there (at the cheese counter). I usually buy it at our local Middle Eastern market (cheaper). It will be more expensive than every day run-of-the-mill Feta, but oh-so-delicious!
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- Ingredients for the dressing:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 medium clove garlic finely minced
- Ingredients for the salad:
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup Israeli Couscous
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt this seems like a lot, but very little will actually be absorbed into the pasta. Add it now to season the pasta as it cooks, giving deeper flavor.
- 2 ½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes halved or quartered
- 1 large seedless cucumber usually plastic-wrapped; about 1 pound, diced
- 1 medium red onion diced
- ½ cup Kalamata olives halved or quartered
- ¾ cup Feta cheese crumbled. We love French Feta, but any kind will do.
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil finely chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons fresh oregano or parsley finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves don't worry about chopping these
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
For the dressing, combine all dressing ingredients in a glass jar and shake well to combine. Set aside.
Bring water to boil in a medium-size pot. Add couscous, olive oil and salt. Return to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer and cook for 8-9 minutes or until al dente. Drain well and rinse with cool water. Transfer to a medium size bowl.
Add tomatoes, cucumber and red onion to the bowl with the couscous and stir to combine. Drizzle about half of the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Add the olives, Feta, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir gently. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for several days. Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature.