Why yes, another end-of-summer side dish! If you dare.
And what’s even better is that I have a story to go with it.
You’re like, “please no.”
So my bestie Laura was in town last weekend for my birthday, and we hit up a cute little indie bakery in the neighborhood for lunch. We ordered this one salad (kale caesar which I would have given my pancreas for), but they were out, so we tried to order another one. (regular green leaf with market veggies and I was prepared to offer a spleen), but as luck would have it, they were out of that one, too. Okay, it’s fine. Totally good. So we ordered another salad (something about couscous and basil – sure, we’ll take it). And they bring it out in this little white bowl, all heaping out and glossy. Gorgeous! Let’s dive in.
Between gulps and swallows and omgs, Laura asks, “So how do you come with recipes?” I go, “Oh I have no idea. But most of the time I just think of an ingredient, or a look, and build from there. Here, let’s try one together.” Her eyes widen,“Okay, zucchini.” And I replied, “Zucchini, cool. How about we add a little bit of the Israeli couscous for some toothy guts, like in this, but it’s more zucchini focused, rather than this cucumber. But we’ll sear the diced zucchini with some minced garlic. And then we’ll use up my garden cherry tomatoes, but leave those fresh. And oh! Feta would be salty and add a little cheese dimension. How about basil? And I always need an aromatic, like a shallot. Let’s slice that up and stir it in. Lemon and oil. Done.”
Which brings us here today.
Are you excited yet? Because this is SO. GOOD.
And simple! Which I always say, but it’s always true, bruh. And perfect for this time of year before it snaps and gets cooler. Use up your bumper crop of tomatoes and basil! And zucchini, if you’re an overachiever and growing that, too. Basically, find your soul in this and commit before sweater season.
Here’s a little BTS. I always prop my spiral notebook up and jot as I go. I know you’ve been on the edge of your lives wondering what this all looks like.
Also, I didn’t over dice the zucch. Only because that would take too much time and you know me. Plus it sort of shrivels in the cooking process, so just give it a regular dice. Circles > half circles > quartered > eighthed. Why am I getting a squiggle line?
Not important. Just dice them. And get your garlic minced.
You’ll sauté the zucchini in a few glugs of oil, then add the garlic at the last minute. We don’t want to burn the garlic so just add it at the end, bloom it and get it fragrant and lightly browned. All set!
At the same time you’ll boil your Israeli couscous. Remember how the kids used to call it “pasta pearls” on one of my Food Network Mom Wins shows a million years ago before Covid derailed everything?
Get it toothy and tender. After you drain it, add it back and drizzle in a little oil for good measure. Use your good olive oil!
And then it’s just the pile-on situation. The couscous, the tender garlicky zucchini, the pungent sliced shallot, the salty feta, the fresh cherry tomatoes, and vibrant basil. It all goes in.
Drizzle your good oil over it one more time (just a Tbs. or so), and stir until it’s luscious and speckled and alive. And then there’s the food! BA-DOMP.
Also! I nearly forgot – the lemon. You’ll squeeze half the lemon in and watch that mother wake UP.
First of all, UGH. Second of all, need more salt? A little? More lemon? Maybe a half drizzle of oil or a crack of black pepper? Get all.up.over.and.in.that.
It makes a fantastic side dish to a roasted chicken, smoked salmon or grilled steak. Or eat it as is for a full-on vegetarian meal!
Here’s the thing – you can serve it immediately, warm and delightful. OR – if you have it in you, make it early and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour. I like it chilled! Just make sure you squeeze a little more lemon on it before you serve. But I mean, you know this.
It’s almost September so that means it’s PRIME-TIME-A-LOOZA for this deliciousness.
Your new best friend.
I already can’t wait for lunch leftovers.