A bountiful salad of spring vegetables – The San Diego Union-Tribune

I love everything about this spring vegetable salad, from the fava beans to the asparagus and the sweet, dried Turkish apricots.
Then there is this beautiful red corn. Yes! Red corn. Isn’t it lovely? When I was ready to photograph this recipe for my blog a few years ago, I found this red corn at Specialty Produce. Buying it was an accident. I just saw a large bin of corn in one of the refrigerated rooms and grabbed it without even bothering to pull back the husks and take a look. I never do that. I’m usually quite obsessive when picking out fresh corn. But I was in a hurry.
I tried to play it cool when I was at the checkout, and the gal asked if she could pull the husk back and see which corn I had. Sure, go ahead. And she does, and I’m shocked to see it’s red, and she’s like, oh, we just got this in. Did you know it was red? Uh, no, says me, I’ve never seen fresh red corn on the cob before. She tells me that it’s lower in starch. She also says that it loses its color if cooked in water. Instead, she adds, she loves to eat it raw or grilled. That’s perfect, I tell her, and thank her for the tip. Inside, I’m thinking, please don’t ruin my dish, red corn.
It didn’t. I LOVE that it added gorgeous pops of color with a clean, slightly sweet flavor and a nice, crisp bite when eaten raw. But don’t get hung up on the color of the corn. I originally made this with fresh white corn on the cob, and it was just as delicious. Use whatever fresh corn you can find. In-season corn is wonderfully sweet raw. When choosing, it should be firm, plump and blemish free.
All this veg is surrounded by Israeli couscous. Often mistaken as a grain, Israeli couscous — also known as pearl couscous, giant couscous and ptitim — is actually perfectly round, fat balls of machine-made pasta. Its chewy yet light texture makes it a perfect addition to salads and grain bowls.
The beauty of a salad like this is that it’s completely customizable. Don’t like asparagus? Try ribbons of zucchini or even Persian cucumbers instead. Not a fan of fava beans? Substitute lightly blanched edamame or English peas. Put off by the texture of pearl couscous? Use orzo pasta or even short-grain brown rice.
In the end, the star of this salad is the dressing. Because, c’mon, isn’t it always? Don’t lie.

I wanted something a little unexpected to counterbalance the sweetness from the corn and fava beans — something for that lovely, toothsome Israeli couscous to soak up. I decided to go with a dressing that incorporated the warmth of Chinese five spice with a slight hit of heat from my stash of harissa (a spicy North African condiment made with various peppers, spices and sometimes tomatoes).
Depending on the dish, harissa can elevate the humdrum to “wow.” I use it for various foods, finding that just a touch can add that little unexpected complexity to a sauce. Sometimes it’s the main ingredient in a quick marinade, and I add it straight from the jar to tacos. Adding it to the dressing made it the spicy yang to the sweet yin of the veggies and apricot. If you don’t have harissa on hand, substitute your favorite chile paste or hot sauce. You could even add some minced fresh serrano peppers. Or leave out the heat altogether. It’s your salad, after all.

Avoid the thin asparagus spears, which are much harder to shave. If you can’t find the large spears, substitute with zucchini or Persian cucumbers. If you don’t like the sweetness of Turkish apricots, try the more tart California dried apricot, golden raisins or cranberries. The sumac in the dressing is optional, but I like the hint of lemon that it gives — it’s more floral and less sharp-tasting than lemon zest.
Makes 8 servings
FOR THE SALAD:
1 ½ pounds fava bean pods (about 1 ½ cups fresh shelled)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous, raw
8 to 10 spears asparagus, jumbo or large
1 ear sweet corn (red, yellow or white)
4 dried apricots
⅓ cup raw pistachio meats
FOR THE SALAD DRESSING:
1 tablespoon plus ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
2 to 3 tablespoons harissa sauce, or to taste (can substitute with your favorite chile paste)
2 teaspoons raw organic honey (can substitute with agave)
½ teaspoon Chinese five fpice
½ teaspoon sumac, optional
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
FOR GARNISH:
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, leaves only
Remove fava beans from their pods. Set beans aside and discard pods.
Fill a saucepan with 4 cups of water and bring to a rolling boil. Whisk in salt. Add couscous and bring back to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain the couscous into a large sieve, using a large bowl to catch the water. Return the water to the saucepan and keep on a low simmer. Rinse couscous under cool running water; spread it over a large rimmed baking sheet to cool.
Drop fava beans into the simmering water — cook for 3 minutes. Fill a bowl with ice water. Drain fava beans and immerse them into the ice water bath to halt cooking. When cool enough to touch, pierce one end of the bean skin with your thumbnail and then gently squeeze the bean to release it from its skin. Repeat with remaining beans, then add to a serving bowl or platter.
Trim off and discard the lighter, woody end of the asparagus. Holding the asparagus by the freshly trimmed end, use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus into thin ribbons. Add the ribbons to the bowl with the beans.
Place a dishtowel on a steady work surface. Remove husk and silk from corncob. Rub the corncob with a damp paper towel to remove any remaining silk; discard silk and husk. Cut the bottom end of the corncob to create a stable base. Stand corncob upright on the dishtowel and, using a sharp knife, run the knife down vertically, close to the cob, to remove the kernels, being careful to keep fingers away from the blade; add the kernels to the serving bowl.
Finely chop the apricots; add them to the serving bowl.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron works great) on medium heat. Gently toss in the pistachios and toast, stirring and shaking the skillet to keep the pistachios from burning. Toasting should only take about a minute or so. Transfer the nuts to the serving bowl.
Place a small saucepan on medium heat. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is shimmering, add onions and garlic. Stir continuously, sweating the onions until softened and translucent, and the garlic is aromatic. Whisk in the apple cider, harissa, honey, Chinese five spice, sumac (if using) and sea salt. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then take off the heat. Whisk in the ⅓ cup of olive oil.
Add the couscous to the serving bowl, tossing to mix well. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, to taste. Toss again to incorporate. Garnish with the chopped mint. Serve salad at room temperature or make one day ahead and serve chilled.
Leftover dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and is reprinted by permission from “Confessions of a Foodie.”
Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at anita.arambula@sduniontribune.com.
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