Last month, my roommate hosted a party in our apartment celebrating his grandmother’s 90th birthday. I was in Milwaukee, but enjoyed the leftovers when I returned to New York. One of my favorite dishes Mark made with his mother was this Israeli couscous salad with dried cherries, arugula, and walnuts. We had so much of it left in our fridge I brought some out to my grandmother, knowing she’d probably never had couscous (which she now calls “frou-frou”) but might like it nonetheless.

Did she ever. I was sorry I’d only brought a pint-size container full. She wanted more and has asked for it ever since. So Labor Day weekend, before driving out to Long Island, I whipped up a batch to take over. I had most of the ingredients on hand; the day before, at the co-op, I only had to pick up some more couscous in bulk (Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is made from baked wheat and is bigger and rounder than North African couscous, which is finer and made from semolina). Instead of orange juice, like the recipe called for, I used grapefruit juice since that’s what I had in my fridge.

Of course, this recipe is just asking for substitutions. I bet fresh squeezed lemon juice, cooked eggplant, feta, and mint would work nicely. Or chickpeas, turmeric, a dried red chile pepper, and cilantro.

This salad makes for a great lunch during the week, and doesn’t require heating up. Leftovers last a few days at least, although the arugula will begin to wilt once dressed. Give it a try, and hey, offer it to someone who thinks couscous is called “frou-frou” because I think they just might like it.

Couscous salad with dried cherries, walnuts, and arugula

For the couscous:
1 c water
2/3 c orange or grapefruit juice
1 1/3 c (1/2 lb) Israeli (pearl) couscous

For the salad:
1/4 c orange or grapefruit juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2/3 c dried cherries
2 stalks celery, finely diced
3 oz (a couple handfuls) arugula
1/2 c walnuts, lightly toasted
1 shallot, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the water and the juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Prepare a large baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper. When the couscous has absorbed all the liquid spread it out on the baking sheet to cool.

Whisk together the juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add the dried cherries and microwave for 2 minutes on high. (Alternatively, you can bring the mixture to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stove, then stir in the cherries and turn off the heat.) Let the cherries stand in the liquid for at least 5 minutes, until they are glossy and plump. Drain off the liquid into another cup and reserve.

When the couscous has cooled to lukewarm, slide the couscous into a large mixing bowl. Take the reserved liquid drained from the cherries and whisk vigorously until thoroughly combined. Stir this into the couscous. Stir in the steeped cherries, celery, arugula, walnuts, and shallot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4–6.

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