My lovely friend Dinah went to Turkey last month with her Aunt and Grandmother for a three generation return to her grandmothers first home. Her pictures were incredible, the stories of the food left my mouth watering, and I was an all-around green ball of jealousy in the best way possible, of course. Luckily, Dinah brought me a small piece of Turkey, a spice from the famous Bazaar in Istanbul. It came in a vacuum sealed bag and was the color of bright maroon mixed with iron rust if that makes any sense at all (I guess my career naming paint colors won't be taking off very soon).
As fate would have it that spice has a small snippet in the issue of Saveur I just got in the mail. It is called aleppo pepper, and I have already fallen in love with it. All it took was throwing it in some oil and then sauteing it in some chard to win me over. I immediately began thinking of other ways to use it. Saveur describes aleppo chiles, or Capsicum annuum for all you science nerds out there, as "russet-colored shards" that "convey hints of tobacco and a lemony piquancy." Is you mouth watering yet?
At the same time, I have been wanting to make an Israeli couscous salad. The catering company I work for serves it often. Sometimes, it is the only thing I can eat during those long shifts when we get a dinner break. But, I don't mind because it is damn good. People are always asking our chef for the recipe. He always laughs and says "There is no recipe!" And it's true. The salad he and our other wonderful chefs make is always different. There are a million recipes out there on the web for all seasons. Everyone has one. It is just one of those things that you can easily throw together with whatever ingredients you have laying around. I think it is high time I add another couscous salad to the mix. This one features a new product from Trader Joe's that I found recently, dried lychees, but you can substitute any dried fruit really. I imagine dried pineapple, apricot, prunes, and cranberries, to name a few, would be simply delicious.
Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Tofu
Israeli couscous can be a little bit on the spendy side. If you are trying to save money, or are having trouble finding it try making this with regular couscous or quinoa.
-For the salad-
1 1/2 c. Israeli couscous
2 1/4 c. water
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/3 c. roasted pistachios, chopped
1/3 c. dried lychees, chopped
2 Tbs. chopped, crystallized ginger or pickled ginger or 1 Tsp. dried, ground ginger
4 green, red or other spring onion, sliced
1 handful fresh mint, thickly sliced
1 Tbs magic Turkish spice (or crushed aleppo pepper)
salt, to taste
Place couscous and water in a pot over high heat with a lid. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Once the couscous is cooked spread it out on a cookie sheet, mix it with the olive oil and allow it to cool.
Once it is cool mix in the rest of the ingredients.
-For the grilled tofu-
1 package extra-firm tofu, sliced in half inch thick pieces
~1/3 c. lemon juice
1 Tbs. crushed aleppo pepper
1-2 inch piece of fresh ginger thinly sliced
big pinch salt
3 Tbs. canola or other oil that can withstand high heat
Place all ingredients, with the exception of the oil, in an airtight container and place in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour. You can do it the night before or the morning of the day you plan to make it, if you want to save some time.
Place a grilling pan over high heat on the stove and add the oil. Once the oil is hot place the tofu on the pan and pour the rest of the marinade over it. Grill on that side until the black marks from the grill form, about 5-8 minutes. Then turn over, the other side will take less time since most of the marinade will have cooked off by then, so check relatively frequently. Remove from the pan immediately once they have finished cooking on both sides.
Serve tofu over the salad immediately. This is, unfortunately, one of those recipes that does not keep quite as well as I would hope. Luckily, that gives you incentive to have seconds, or thirds.