Simple Weeknight Meal.

I love a good pasta/grain salad — you can usually prepare it ahead of time and then let it sit at room temperature or chill for a few hours in the fridge so you’re ready to go whenever dinner hour rolls around–or whenever you need a bite of something meaningful. I’m often peckish around 4:30 in the afternoon and a handful of pretzels is never enough: I want a mouthful of well-dressed grains to tide me over until dinner o’clock. Pasta salads are the ideal solution, and though I just wrote an entire post about the art of sitting down to eat with a napkin and plate, it would be disingenuous to omit that I rather enjoy the indulgence of scooping a spoonful of pasta out of a bowl with the refrigerator door wide open. My mother would be appalled.

They are also a wonderful way to clear out the fridge/pantry when need be. One of my favorite recipes for this kind of pantry-clearing activity is “Summer Couscous Salad,” a recipe I’ve had for ages and ages whose provenance is unclear. It’s written on an oil-spattered 3×5 index card in my teenager hand — so it’s been a staple of mine for going on twenty years. Despite the name, I eat this salad year-round and it’s pretty much perfect, stands up well to substitutions, and even meets Mr. Magpie’s approval. I’ll be serving it to my girlfriend for dinner this week, and I’m just as excited about the prospect of having it for lunches over the course of the next few days.

Summer Couscous Salad

Preheat oven to 425.  Mix ⅛ cup Dijon mustard with ⅛ cup honey and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Arrange three pounds chicken (I generally prefer bone-in, skin-on but use your best judgment) on a large baking sheet and coat with honey mustard.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until juices run clear. Once cool enough to handle, shred with a fork.

Prepare a box of couscous according to label instructions.

Combine ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ cup olive oil, ½ tablespoon lemon zest, 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.  Toss couscous with about half of vinaigrette; add more if you think more is called for. Add thinly sliced red onion, ¼ cup shelled pistachios, a few handfuls of fresh watercress, ¼ cup almonds (halved and slivered), halved grapes, and shredded chicken.

*I have done tons of variations on the ingredients. Sometimes watercress is difficult to find and arugula is the perfect stand-in. I often toss in dried apricots or cherries, especially when I don’t have grapes — but sometimes I do both! I’m cheeky like that. You can also substitute whatever nuts you have on hand but I will say there is something peculiarly satisfying about the pistachio/almond mix. Still, there’s room to explore there. Also good to throw in leftover roasted asparagus or boiled green beans or even shelling peas — literally, whatever you’ve got works.

I’ll be serving this as a light supper along with whipped smoked ricotta (with toasted baguette slices), some charcuterie, and my go-to weeknight red wine: Carmenere, which is a spicy and delicious red wine from Chile and if you’ve not yet tried it, I implore you to. It’s typically very inexpensive (you can often get a good bottle for around $10-12) and it goes with everything.

Post Scripts.

+More of our favorite dinner recipes and menu ideas when entertaining girlfriends.

+HURRY. Two of my favorite pairs of Rebecca de Ravenel earrings are on ridiculous sale: these are 70% off and these are under $60! I own and wear these constantly.

+Swooning over this chic ruffle-trim caftan from Mi Golondrina.

+Clever, chic, and affordable storage bench for a little one’s room.

+Intrigued by this eye stick…people rave about the cream this brand makes.

+I really need this dress. Full stop. IN LOVE.

+Would love to wear it with these raffia earrings!!!!

+I am a pragmatic cook. What about you?

+We have a lot of birthday parties coming up. Some of my favorite gifts for soon-to-be three year olds: Scribble Scrubbies, wooden race car track, magna-tiles, Melissa & Doug see and spell set, Maileg mice, and — of course — books! A few of mini’s favorite books just shy of three: Make Way for Ducklings, Caps for Sale, A Unicorn Named Sparkle (love the message in this book — all about accepting when things don’t meet your expectations), Lucia the Luchadora, and the Quest books (there are three of them and they have no words — so you make them up anew each time and they are fantastic).

+This is a no-brainer for micro’s summer wardrobe.

+Smitten with this embroidered collar blouse — reminds of of the Sea sweater I have been eyeing for some time.

+Super fun wallpaper for a boy’s nursery in that great blue color!

+Swooning over this top for my next date night.

+10 things you need in your kitchen.

+Now is the time to stock up for next year on things like hats! The sale section here is so, so good. Ordered a new sweatshirt for mini, a sunsuit for micro, and this cotton one-piece for him, too. I can’t have enough of those! Perfect for casual weekdays at home. This was one of my favorite tops in mini’s closet this fall!

+Love this cardigan. GREAT color.

9 Comments

  1. Sounds delicious, going to give it a try!
    Just had to tell you I immediately ordered the white embroidered collar blouse-Love
    Thank you

  2. I love these grain salads too — so easy and can be modified in so many different ways. I make a similar version to yours but with chickpeas instead as we’re vegetarian on most days. I might deviate and try your recipe with the honey mustard chicken! Sometimes I use barley or farro if I want something with a little more heft to it. I’ll have to try it with watercress as in your recipe — that sounds like an excellent way to jazz it up! Oh, and old oil-spattered recipe cards are the best. 😉

    But wait…. whipped smoked ricotta?! Please tell me more — do you buy it this way or do you make it then whip it on your own, add liquid smoke or…? I will say I love Ina Garten’s homemade ricotta recipe… my favorite is to serve it with toasted baguette, fresh lemon zest, a drizzle of orange blossom honey, and Maldon salt.

    To borrow your expression, I am DYING over that Gul Hurgel dress. If only I didn’t already have maybe 4-5 blue and white striped dresses…

    We are fans of A Unicorn Named Named Sparkle here too! Interestingly, it resonated with me as a parent… thinking of how I had to let go of this idea of a “dream child” while fiercely loving the child I have (whose personality was not at all what I was expecting, and so different from my husband and me). I love how well-written children’s books impart messages that are ageless and timeless.

    P.S. You find the best earrings! I’ve been more of a minimalist when it comes to jewelry but I’ve been learning to branch out to more “statement” styles, thanks to you!

    1. Hi Mia! The smoked ricotta spread is from a local cheesemonger, Salvatore Brooklyn, and it is BANANAS. But regular ricotta whipped and served up with olive oil / lemon juice / salt, as you said, is ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS TOO.

      That’s so interesting on the book resonating with you as a mom, too. I also learn stuff from these kids books! I love those Quest and Journey books because they’re all about improvisation and imagination and they remind me that there is never one solution…

      xxx

  3. Yum. Looks fab and so easy!

    Love love love your recipe and cooking posts – can you beg Mr. Magpie to write down Mmmm Chicken for your many fans?! 😉

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