Israeli Couscous Salad

There was a time in my life that I considered myself a semi-hardcore backpacker. The time Brent and I woke at 5 am, drove half-way up a mountain only to get a flat tire in the rain, and despite our shitty luck (he more than me) was determined to hike the trail, set up camp on top of a glacier, and call it a day.

So we set out, hours after our original estimate, and arrived at the camp just before the sunset, which was a miracle in itself considering we forgot a map. Too tired to cook, we ate dry Ramen noodles out of the pack and then fell exhausted into the tent. That night, the coldest I'd ever been, I fought tooth and nail with our dog over who got to snuggle into Brent's sleeping bag to steal his warmth. The dog won. The next morning we woke to find ourselves literally camping on a glacier. The clouds broke, and to celebrate we drank a bottle of wine, then climbed to the top using the empty bottle and an ice ax. Once we reached the top, it seemed awfully steep and icy, so why not use our jackets and slide down the glacier on our asses? Maybe I'll take back my previous comment about us being semi-hardcore, and rephrase it as semi-stupid.

Or there was that time that we decided to circumnavigate Mount St Helens 28 miles in 3 days, which was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. The hike was dusty and dry, with only a few water stops along the way. We zig-zagged up and around volcanic rocks and deep gullies, while I carried somewhere between 30 and 35 lbs on my back. By the time we had finished the hike, I was simultaneously crying because I had lost 2 toenails and laughing because I was so happy not to be hiking anymore. For the next few days, I hobbled like I had been riding a horse for weeks. I spent most of my time on the toilet because I'm pretty sure I got some sort of bacteria from the water we drank. It was only after that trip that I realized I actually hated backpacking and I would never do it again. I do, however, bring up that experience often, and regale tails as if I'd gone off to war.

Two weekends ago, we set out on our first camping trip with Sebastian and let me tell you, camping with an 11-month-old is not the easiest thing I've ever done. In preparation for the trip, we set aside all of our lightweight super small backpacking equipment and promptly drove to REI where we splurged on a new cooler, cooking stove, plates and utensils, and a massive tent with two rooms. Brent wanted to get the tent attachment, oh you know, in case we need to store our horses?, but I immediately refused, because I thought our tent was already pushing the maximum size limit, and not even sure we'd fit in the campsite. I'm not going to lie, though, if we hadn't already spent so much on the tent, I was half-way tempted to get the cot and side tables to go with. Maybe a rug or two? Too much? We've now taking camping to a whole new level.

The only downside I can see to owning all this gear is the set-up and take-down. It took forever. Honestly, I am a little glad that summer is almost over (I know, I'm an asshole), because camping with an 11-month-old is exhausting, and I can probably wait until next year until we venture back out into the woods. Brent, on the other hand, lives for camping, and I'm sure if we were at the beginning of the season I'd have quite a few more trips in my near future. For now, I'll enjoy the last few weeks of this glorious weather on my patio with our new patio furniture and a glass of rose in my hand. I'll also be grilling everything on the BBQ and eating all of the summer produce that I can get my hands on, starting with all of the tomatoes. I'll watch Sebastian cruise around our nice baby-proof home, where I don't have to worry about him choking on small objects scattered about. For the next little while (or until he stops putting everything in his mouth), you can find us here, cozied up in the comforts of our own home. Jeez, we sound lame.

This week, I was looking for something easy to make, because of cooking in the heat, ugh. I purchased some beautiful tomatoes and a nice bunch of basil from the market last weekend. I pulled together a quick salad with those ingredients and added a few of my staples, things I always have around - olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. And the most important ingredient - Israeli couscous - which is can also be referred to as pearl couscous. Pearl couscous looks like small little white pearls, that once cooked, have a texture similar to pasta. I love to make them into fresh salads or pair them with roasted veggies in the winter. They are really easy to cook and can be stored in the fridge for later use. They have a fairly mild flavor, so I like to dress them us with spices and sauces. And a boatload of fresh tomatoes, obvs.

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serves 8

prep time: 15 minutes

cooking time: 8 minutes

2 1/2 cups water or broth

1 tsp salt (optional)

1 tbsp butter (optional)

2 cups pearl couscous

1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, chopped

2 - 3 tbsp olive oil

1 small lemon

salt and pepper to taste

handful of basil leaves

1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated

In a medium saucepan, add the water or broth. If you are using broth than omit the salt, but otherwise, salt gives the couscous a nice flavor. Add 1 tbsp of butter for taste. This is optional as well, but in my opinion, a good idea!

Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the couscous. Cover with a lid, and cook until the water has dissolved, roughly 8 - 10 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds starting around the 7 minute mark. This will prevent the couscous from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once done, remove from the stove and set to the side to let cool.

Add the couscous to a large bowl with the tomatoes and avocado and drizzle with olive oil. Add the juice from one lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss.

Sprinkle with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese and serve cold.