Fourth of July fare can skip mayo-dressed salads

A fuss-free Fourth of July spread, fittingly, fills this week’s food section. Writers for the Detroit Free Press steered clear of mayonnaise-based salads, too, ensuring that the meal is light and refreshing.

While vinaigrette-dressed pasta salads are simple and safer to serve in hot weather, couscous and its ilk makes a great alternative for potlucks and picnics where pasta is bound to be plentiful. At a recent outdoor meal, I observed just as many couscous and bulgur-based recipes as noodle dishes. Tabbouleh, of course, is a classic with summer tomatoes and cucumbers.

Here’s a riff on the concept that incorporates the cauliflower coming on strong at local farms and in home gardens, like mine. The beige grain base is the perfect canvas for bright-orange cheddar cauliflower, which we grow, and also purple varieties. Like the pasta salad featured in this week’s food section, this salad pumps up the flavor with a Dijon mustard dressing.

If you want to substitute cracked wheat (medium-grain bulgur), soak 1 2/3 cups (10 ounces) in 3 cups very hot water to cover in a large bowl until nearly tender, usually for about 1 hour. Drain well before using. Alternatively, consider using 2 cups steamed quinoa or millet. There’s even tricolor quinoa to play up the holiday theme.

Tribune News Service photo

Couscous Salad With Roasted Cauliflower and Dijon

1/2 head cauliflower, cored, separated into small florets (total about 8 cups)

4 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil or olive oil, divided

About 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 box (8.8 ounces) whole-wheat Israeli couscous

1/2 cup golden raisins

4 large ripe plum tomatoes, cored and diced

1/2 large seedless cucumber, peeled and cut in small dice

1/2 small red onion, finely diced and rinsed well

Dijon Dressing (recipe follows)

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese

4 cups watercress, arugula or baby kale (or a combination)

1/4 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Balsamic glaze (optional)

Heat oven to 400 F. Toss the cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of the oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet (or use 2 baking sheets). Sprinkle lightly with about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Roast cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until golden and fork-tender, for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, put remaining 1 tablespoon oil into a medium saucepan. Add 3 cups water; heat to a boil. Add the couscous and remaining salt. Reduce heat to low; cover pot. Cook until nearly tender, for about 8 minutes. Let stand for a couple of minutes; drain in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl, stir in the raisins and let cool.

Stir the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and roasted cauliflower into couscous. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 day.

Just before serving, add the dressing to couscous mixture to taste. Gently mix salad. Add the cheese crumbles and watercress. Toss to mix. Serve sprinkled with the sunflower seeds and drizzled with a little balsamic glaze.

Makes 4 to 6 main-course salads, about 8 to 12 side-dish servings.

DIJON DRESSING: In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix 1/2 cup olive oil (or a combination of olive and safflower oils), 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar), 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Shake well before using. Makes about 3/4 cup. Dressing will keep in refrigerator for a few days.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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