A Roast Pumpkin Salad Is Nothing but Goodness Served on A Plate. Envelop It with The Pop of Israeli Couscous, Crunch of An Apple and Smeared with Tahini Dressing, It’s A Match Made in Heaven!
What is Couscous?
Growing up in Asia, couscous was never part of our pantry staples. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia where I was introduced to couscous. And like anything I’m not familiar with in the food world, I love to learn more about its origin and how it became a well-used ingredient around the world.
Couscous are steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina. Couscous comes from North Africa, namely Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This Maghrebi staple is to them as rice is to Asians or pasta to Italians.
Upon doing my research, I was amazed to learn what a labour-intensive process it was to make couscous. Traditionally, grain is put through a millstone to make flour. The parts of the grain which resisted grinding, which is the hard part of the durum, is the very part used to make couscous.
To make the small granules of couscous, semolina is mixed with water and using your hands, you then roll them to form small pellets. To keep these pellets separate, they were dusted with dry flour. They are then put through a sieve and if any of the pellets are too small, they are deemed as being unsuitable. The pellets are then rolled again and this process continues until all the semolina has been used.
The couscous is then steamed to give it that fluffy texture we are so accustomed to. Thank goodness we have machines nowadays that have allowed couscous to be readily available all around the world.
What Is Israeli Couscous?
There are many interchangeable names for Israeli couscous, namely pearl couscous and ptitim. The granules of the Israeli couscous are larger and each small round ball resembles that of a small pearl, hence its other given name.
Why Is Tahini So Popular?
Because it’s delicious. And because we were all looking for a healthier version of peanut butter.
Whilst the people of the Middle East and North Africa have been consuming tahini for the longest time, it didn’t really make its mark in the mainstream world until recent times. Famous celebrity chefs and well-known food bloggers swear by its versatility and nutritional benefits. And by spreading the word about how delicious tahini is, it gained notoriety and is now a popular ingredient in our salad recipes today.
Tahini make for fantastic creamy salad dressings and keeping in the same vein of our North African theme, it was a fitting accompaniment to the Israeli couscous.
Why I Love Roast Pumpkin Salad with Israeli Couscous and Apple
Salad recipes with roast pumpkin are so delicious and I love that you can roast the pumpkin on its own or with a little spice to give it a bit of a kick. The combination of flavours and textures in this Israeli couscous salad is sweet, nutty and crunchy. Mixed through with the small chewy pearl sized balls of the Israeli couscous cooked in that flavourful broth is wonderful.
And honestly, how can you go wrong with this tahini dressing recipe? I love mixing maple syrup through the tahini as it takes the slight bitterness away without completely masking it. The sharp tang of lemon softens the sweetness of maple syrup so really, this is just yum!
How to Make Roast Pumpkin Salad with Israeli Couscous and Apple
How to Roast Pumpkin
Let’s start this Israeli couscous salad with the butternut pumpkin or butternut squash. Remove the outer skin of the pumpkin and dice it into 2cm cubes.
In a medium mixing bowl, add 2 tsp of olive oil, the ground cumin powder and a pinch of salt and pepper. Coat the pumpkin thoroughly. Then place the pumpkin on a lined baking tray with baking paper and put in the oven at 200°C or 390°F for 20 minutes. After that time, remove from the oven, turn the pumpkin so the underside is exposed. Bake for a further 8 minutes to achieve that golden-brown colour.
How to Cook the Freekeh and Couscous
On the stove top, prepare 2 small pots.
In the first pot, bring 4 cups of water to boil. Add some salt and pour in the freekeh. Cook for approximately 30 minutes. When the freekeh is cooked, drain it and set aside to cool.
In the second pot, bring 2 cups of vegetable stock or broth to boil. Add the Israeli couscous and let it simmer for 8 minutes with the lid on so that the couscous is well steamed. This rehydration process will make the couscous fluffy. When this is finished, remove from heat, drain if there is a bit of liquid left and set aside to cool.
How to Prepare the Rest of the Ingredients
Moving onto the apple. I cut my apple straight down the sides with the leftover core becoming an oblong stick. Slice the flesh of the apple into thin slices. I always place my cut apples in a bowl of salted water to stop it from browning. It really works a treat. When you’re ready to serve, wash the apples to remove the saltiness and dry them with a paper towel so the salad doesn’t turn soggy.
Toast the pine nuts in a pan for about 1-2 minutes with no oil, until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, add the roasted butternut pumpkin, freekeh, Israeli couscous, pine nuts and only half the apple.
Mix gently to ensure the pumpkin doesn’t get mashed.
Leave the other half of the sliced apples for the assembly stage.
How to Make the Salad Dressing with Maple Syrup
This is one of the yummiest tahini dressing recipes of all time. The sweetness of the maple syrup works incredibly well with the strong sesame flavours and helps to cut through the bitterness.
Add the tahini, maple syrup and the juice of half a lemon into a bowl.
In order to create the desired consistency, add one tbsp of water, whisk and keep adding a tbsp of water until you’re happy with it. Some people like it quite thick whilst others prefer it a bit waterier. I have found the magic number is 6 tbsp of water and it gives the dressing a creamy finish.
How to Assemble the Roast Pumpkin Salad
On a serving platter, place the mixed salad gently in a nice heap.
With the remaining apple slices, create clusters in a fan shape and insert them strategically into the salad as a bit of a show piece.
Serve the tahini and maple syrup dressing in a bowl on the side. Don’t mix the dressing through the salad as it can get gluggy towards the end. Much better served on the side and eaten fresh.
Season with salt and pepper.
This North African and Middle Eastern inspired salad recipe makes me happy. To be able to use ingredients that originated thousands of years ago that is now readily available in our local supermarket is a testament to how far the everyday culinary palette has evolved. This salad is a mouthful of pure joy.
More Middle Eastern Inspired Salad Recipes:
Roast Pumpkin Salad with Israeli Couscous and Apple
- Cut the pumpkin into small 2 cm cubes. In a medium mixing bowl, add 2 tsp of olive oil, the ground cumin powder and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well to ensure the pumpkin is well coated.
- Line a sheet pan with baking paper. Spread out the butternut pumpkin evenly across the sheet pan and place in the oven at 200°C or 390°F for 20 minutes.
- Remove the sheet pan from the oven. Flip the pumpkin to expose the underside and bake for another 8 minutes. We are looking for a nice golden-brown colour.
- In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to boil and add salt. Pour in the freekeh and cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, remove from heat, drain and set aside to cool.
- In another small saucepan, bring 2 cups of vegetable stock or broth to boil. Add the Israeli couscous and let it simmer for 8 minutes or until al dente. Keep the cover on so the steam doesn’t escape and allows the couscous to become light and fluffy. When done, remove from heat, drain and set aside to cool.
- Cut the apple and slice into thin slices. Place them in a small mixing bowl with the salt water to avoid browning. Drain and dry the apples when you’re ready to serve.
- Dry toast the pine nuts in a small fry pan for about 1-2 minutes, until golden brown.
- Add the tahini, maple syrup and the juice of half a lemon into a small mixing bowl.
- Add water 1 tsp at a time and whisk well to combine the ingredients. 6 tsp of water is the recommended amount of water for this dressing but add more or less until you reach a consistency you are happy with.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the roasted pumpkin, freekeh, Israeli couscous, pine nuts and half the sliced apples. Mix gently.
- Place the mixed salad on a serving platter.
- With the remaining apple slices, create clusters in a fan shape and insert them strategically into the salad as a bit of a show piece.
- Serve the tahini dressing on the side so guests can help themselves.
- Season with salt and pepper. Serve.
- You can substitute freekeh for barley, farro or quinoa.
- If pine nuts are too expensive, you can use almonds or peanuts.
- If you really can’t find tahini, peanut butter is the best replacement but is of course less healthier.
- Don’t mix the dressing with the salad as the freekeh and Israeli couscous are heavy components and tend to absorb the dressing and after awhile makes it a bit gluggy.
- If you don’t like salad dressings with maple syrup, you can add honey instead.