Grain salads make nice Thanksgiving sides, serving as counterpoints to both stuffings and other vegetable dishes.
This year I've become interested in African flavors. I particularly like the spice combinations of northern African cuisine, which I used in the Moroccan-Spiced Meatloaf I made earlier this year. Similar flavors show up in this couscous salad. It's a marriage of north African flavors and traditional Thanksgiving vegetables--green beans and sweet potatoes.
Couscous was a fad food for awhile. I remember dinners in the early 2000s frequently featuring one of those simple flavored couscous sides from the box. I don't see it as a "trendy" food anymore, which is perhaps good. It can go back to its Mediterranean roots.
The first time I ever ate couscous was in 1994. I was in high school having lunch with a friend at Zefiro, the trend-setting Portland restaurant that many say was the template for the modern age of Portland dining. I had Algerian-marinated chicken skewers with couscous, a vibrant, spicy dish that I absolutely loved.
With this salad, I hope to honor couscous' North African roots while also positioning it as an ideal Thanksgiving side. It's a simple, versatile thing that could easily work well with other Thanksgiving vegetables (wouldn't it be great with roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon?).
North African Green Bean and Sweet Potato Couscous Salad
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 cubes
3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed off and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
1 bunch of scallions, white and light green part chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
16 oz. box couscous
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Put the diced sweet potatoes in a large bowl and drizzle with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Season with salt and toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes. Stir the potatoes and roast another 5 to 10 minutes until soft and lightly browned on some edges. Set aside to cool.
2. Bring a large (4 qt.) saucepan of lightly salted water to boil. Add the cut green beans and cook until tender (this is a matter of preference; for chewier beans, stop after 3 minutes or for more tender beans, cook up to 7 minutes). Remove beans and transfer to an ice water bath.
3. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the scallions and sage and cook about 2 minutes until the onions are slightly wilted and the sage is fragrant.
4. Cook couscous according to package directions.
5. In a large bowl, combine the roasted sweet potatoes, cooked green beans, scallions, sage, couscous and remaining ingredients through freshly ground black pepper. Whisk together the dressing and pour over the mixture. Toss to combine and serve.
Other Thanksgiving Recipes
Thanksgiving Central (all Thanksgiving recipes)
Wheat Berry Salad with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Sage
Roasted Parsnip-Quinoa Salad with Shallot-Lemon Dressing
Green Bean Casserole with Bacon and Mushrooms
Green Beans with Bacon, Blue Cheese, Pecans and Dried Cranberries
Apple, Manchego and Pecan Salad
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon-Maple Glaze and Smoked Almonds