Sunday, March 1, 2009

Couscous Salad with Dates & Almonds

I don't know about the rest of you, but I grew up with date-nut bread spread with cream cheese. It's a flavor combination that rockets me right back to my childhood. But much as I actually like their wonderful, smokey-sweet flavor, I've never bought dates just to have around the house, because they always seemed like little pellets of pure sugar.

Well, here's the good news. Dates are actually very high in antioxidants. In fact, they are high in some of the same compounds that are found in red wine. A group of scientists at the Agricultural Research Service and UC Davis ran antioxidant tests on the 6 types of dates grown in California. The antioxidant winner was the Deglet Noor date, which is the most common type found in supermarkets.

So this inspired me to make a couscous salad with dates--they're from the same part of the world after all. I also went for whole wheat couscous, which I had not noticed before at the market. At first I thought it might be just hype, the way food manufacturers are tacking "whole grain" and "wheat" onto everything in sight. But when I compared the nutrition for regular couscous versus whole wheat, I was pleasantly surprised. The whole wheat version has almost 4 times the fiber.

Couscous Salad with Dates & Almonds
When you cut sticky dried fruit, like dates, you should lightly oil the knife to make cutting easier. For a main course, add 2 cups chopped cooked meat or cubed tofu.

2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2/3 cups (10 ounces) whole wheat couscous
1 navel orange
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2/3 cup chopped pitted dates (6 large, 4-1/2 ounces unpitted)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1/2 cup minced scallions

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to a boil. Stir in the couscous, remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, grate the orange to get 1 teaspoon of zest and place in a small bowl. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the bowl. Peel and chop the remaining orange half and set aside.
3. To the bowl with the orange juice, whisk in the oil, lemon juice, pepper, cumin and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle the dressing over the couscous and toss well with a fork.
4. Add the chopped orange, dates, almonds, cilantro and scallions, and toss well. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Makes 6 servings

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