Coming up with a name for this salad was challenging. There are so many amazing ingredients in it, that it was all I could do not to just list everything. I call it a Mediterranean salad because it incorporates many ingredients popular in countries along the Mediterranean Sea and into Africa and the Middle East. Israeli cous cous, quinoa, and chickpeas make up the body of the salad with roasted butternut squash, pomegranate, golden raisins, cilantro, and mint adding a lot of flavor and color. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, white wine vinegar, and ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a popular spice blend in North Africa which in Arabic literally means, “top of the shop,” implying that the spices included were the best in the store. See my recipe for making your own ras el hanout blend here, or buy it at most specialty grocery stores.
I love the play of sweet and savory in this salad. The savory ras el hanout vinaigrette contrasts nicely with the pomegranate and golden raisins, with the mint and cilantro adding a great refreshing lift. This was my first time using Israeli couscous in a recipe. In the past, I have used Moroccan, but I love the larger-grained and chewy Israeli couscous and it has definitely become my preferred type for this kind of dish.
- 1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous, dry
- 20 oz butternut squash, chopped into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup quinoa, dry
- 16 oz cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 5 oz pomegranate seeds
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped mint
- 1/2 chopped cilantro
- 6 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- Begin by tossing your chopped butternut squash in a bowl with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the tossed and seasoned squash in one layer on a sheet pan, and bake in a 305 degree oven for 15 minutes or until a fork just goes through a test piece.
- While the squash is baking, cook the quinoa and couscous. The quinoa will take longer to cook than the couscous, so start with the quinoa. In a small pot, combine one cup of dry quinoa with two cups water. Bring to a boil uncovered, then cover and simmer on low for 10 minutes. If all liquid has not been absorbed in 10 minutes, simply pour off. This will ensure that the quinoa does not get oversaturated with water and become soggy. With quinoa, it's better to slightly undercook than overcook, if anything. Take off the heat, fluff with a fork, and set aside. In a medium pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat with just enough oil to cover the bottom, swirling to coat. Add the couscous, and lightly brown, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn. In a glass measuring cup, boil 1 3/4 cups of water in the microwave. Add the boiling water to the browned couscous, bringing it to a boil. Immediately turn to low and cover, simmering for 6 minutes. After 6 minutes, all liquid should be absorbed and the couscous grains should be completely cooked but still nicely chewy. Take off the heat, fluff with a fork and set aside.
- To make the vinaigrette, add the olive oil, white wine vinegar, sugar, and ras el hanout to a mason jar or other small lidded container. Shake well to combine.
- In a large serving bowl, mix well the quinoa, couscous, chickpeas, butternut squash, golden raisins, pomegranate seeds, mint, cilantro, and ras el hanout vinaigrette. Serve with salt to taste, and extra olive oil if desired.