No-Cook Dinners

Food-Antipasti platter

  Antipasti platter or, in Italian, un piatta di antipasti.  A bit dear, but consummately satisfying for a special occasion. 

Every year about this time, there’s a night when we have only wine, cheese, and fruit for dinner. We eat it in the cool basement on three trays–one for each and then the cheese platter between us on the third.  An old movie plays on the tv. There’s not a salad or even a cooked vegetable and definitely not any sort of cooked meat. The wine is icy white or rosé.  Sometimes even the grill feels too much to do or too hot to light.

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Israeli Couscous Salad

In the heat of the summer when tomatoes are lush and warm and cucumbers are cheap and numerous, I make a lot of Greek salads.  Sometimes there are lovely smoky hot peppers  and other times a few clean, green bell peppers suffice.  Feta makes an appearance if I have it. Crumbled cotija cheese is a fine substitute.  Leftover salmon or chicken might get thrown in.

The other day I saw something somewhere about Israeli salad and, while it’s similar to traditional “Greek” salad, it has lots of lemon and often includes mint and/or other fresh herbs.  When I read the words, “Israeli salad,” I just had to have some.  I like mine with cheese, but many people also add nuts or seeds. Some never add cheese so that the salad is pareve–doesn’t contain dairy or meat– or so that it’s vegan.   Whichever way you choose, I think you’ll be happy and full.

My favorite little bit about Israeli salad (which is served at many meals in Israel including breakfast) comes from legendary blogger David Lebovitz, who had Israeli food writer Maya Marom write a guest post about the salad after his return to Paris from a trip to Israel.  Maya tells us there just aren’t any rules about making the salad as far as ingredients go:

The very bare essentials – which are, just like everything else in Israel, up for discussion – are cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion. The rest is up to your liking, and the amount of chopping patience you have. Just a handful of raw vegetables, finely chopped (“dak dak”) and well-dressed (just olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice), will make a tasty bowlful of goodness. Great as a side, or on its own as a light meal.
The only rule of chopped salad is this: There are no rules. Use whatever vegetables you can find. It doesn’t really matter which kinds you put in, as long as they’re fresh, well chopped, and at room temperature. (Vegetables straight from the fridge tend to taste a little dull).

You can also look at–the photos are great– (or read if you read Hebrew) Maya’s blog here.

My own version of the salad, which often is made larger or fuller with the addition of fresh greens like spinach or arugula, includes Israeli couscous (pearl couscous), which is a very quick cooking small, round pasta that looks a bit like large tapioca.  If I have fresh fish like tuna (see cook’s notes), I grill it, slice it, and add  it on top with another big spritz of lemon.  For a dinner party, a large platter of the salad with a few sliced grilled fish fillets (or poached shrimp if, like me, you don’t keep kosher) is an easy main that can mostly be made ahead.  Serving it at room temperature means you can sit and have a glass of wine with your friends instead of standing at the stove or grill.   The leftover salad makes for great, healthy lunches or is perfect stuffed in pita.  Do taste and re-season if you serve it the next day as you would any refrigerated dish.  This particular bowlful contained fresh oregano as well as parsley only because it was that or sage, which didn’t scan for me.

Since this makes a significant amount of food, remember you can halve it.  My advice, however, is to invite a few friends and share this meal.

6-8 servings   See notes for GF and vegan versions, as well as an idea for adding grilled tuna.

  • 1 cup uncooked Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 English cucumbers, diced
  • 3 small tomatoes, seeded and diced (cut in half and squeeze seeds out; chop rest)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, reserve a bit for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 4 green onions, minced (green and white parts)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped feta cheese, reserve a bit for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • Juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Crushed red pepper
Into a medium pan, pour the boiling water over the Israeli (or pearl) couscous and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer about eight minutes or until tender.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Leave uncovered and set aside to cool a bit.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh herbs, peppers, onions, garlic, feta, and lemon peel.  Add the couscous and mix.   Drizzle lemon juice over everything, season well with a generous pinch crushed red pepper, kosher salt and pepper, and stir well.  (Begin with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and add more if needed.)  Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons olive oil and mix thoroughly.  Taste, re-season, and serve at room temperature.  Good cold for the next day or two for a leftover lunch.
Cook’s Notes: GF? Make rice instead of couscous  VEGAN? Leave out feta for vegan version.  ADD TUNA? To quickly grill tuna, heat stove-top grill or heavy skillet over high heat. Firmly place canola oiled, salted and peppered tuna fillets in hot pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on one side.  Turn and cook another 2-3 minutes on the other side.  They should still be quite pink in the center.  Let them rest a few minutes and then slice thinly at an angle.  4 ounces of fish, along with a big serving of the salad should be plenty for each person.
WINE:  I liked an Oregon chardonnay with this; it stood up to the tuna, if making. Try Chehelam or Bethel Heights.  If you make your salad quite spicy, see about an off-dry Riesling (the higher the alcohol %, the drier the Riesling–) from Washington, New York, or Germany.
Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

Grilled Chicken with Couscous Greek Salad and Lemon Vinaigrette

Dedicated to Gus and Irene Matthews

Hello!  I missed you.  (Actually, I didn’t; I had no time to miss anything.)  But I’m happy to be back.  Thanks for being here.

Back from vacation and hot, hot, hot. HOT!  I know it’s hotter out east, and the temperature has been going down this afternoon as a storm approaches, but I sort of miss Canada.  Recipe way below if you’re interested…

I really miss being waited on.  Having my coffee delivered every morning.  Having no laundry (til I got home).  Being with Dave all the time without anything to distract us from one another. (Ah, gee.)
Making new friends I wish I were with this minute.

She could find a French cafe anywhere.
Did you know they make wine in Quebec?  I liked the dessert wines best and brought some home.
Dave’s favorite pose.
Coast of Cape Breton
Somewhere off the coast of Canada!
Me and my castle.

I guess I digressed, but we did wine and dine for nine days….  My favorite city (and we went on a ship from Montreal – Boston, visiting Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Halifax, and Bar Harbor in between) was Montreal; I’m dying to go back.  Our best meal was at Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston.  Many thanks to Lydia Walshin of Perfect Pantry fame, who recommended it as her favorite go-to.)  Balanced, accessible wine list. House-made pâté with crispy, crusty, chewy baguette.   Small, but perfect entree list; I chose “Lamb Three Ways.”  I now know there is a God.   Dave had roast chicken the likes of which I pray to taste again in my lifetime.  (I thought I made great roast chicken with pan juices.)  Kind, but refined service.  No snooty guys in long aprons rolling their eyes; these folks were genuine food-lovers who knew their restaurant and wanted to make sure you knew it, too.

Just go.

Did you come for a recipe?  Ah, grilled chicken and Greek salad!  About it:  I’ve made similar salads, but not quite exactly like this.  There’s one on the blog, but I thought the idea worth repeating as we love this come hot weather.  Grill up some chicken tenders or boneless breasts very quickly (Who even wants to stand in front of the grill?) while your partner makes a fast chopped Greek salad mixed with a bit of couscous.   If it’s just you doing all the cooking, make the vinaigrette and couscous first, next the mixed vegetables, then the chicken, and last, toss the salad.   Arrange it all on a big, beautiful platter (buy one–check out Good Will) and dinner is served.  It was so hot last night that we ate inside.

grilled chicken tenders with couscous greek salad   serves 4

You can also make this salad with cooked, diced rotisserie chicken.  After tossing couscous with vegetables and greens, add the chicken and then the vinaigrette.

ingredients list: 

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2  teaspoon dried oregano, divided
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing on chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked couscous made with onion and garlic (see below for directions)
  • 1/2 English cucumber, unpeeled
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2  green bell pepper
  • 1/4 pound feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 pound boneless chicken tenders
  • 1 – 1/12 cups cooked couscous with added onion and garlic (see below for directions)
  • 4 cups mixed fresh salad greens

1. Make a vinaigrette first: Whisk well together 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 3/4 t Dijon-style mustard, a good pinch of salt, pepper, dried oregano and crushed red pepper.  Drizzle in slowly 1/2 cup olive oil and whisk until well-combined or thickened (emulsified.)   Set aside.

2. Make the couscous as per directions below.  Set aside.

3. Chop the English cucumber,  tomatoes, green pepper (if using), feta, and red onion. Mince the parsley. Add all of the vegetables to a large bowl and stir in kalamata olives.  Mix together gently with the other teaspoon of dried oregano, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.  Set aside.

4.  Grill until just done (about 2 minutes on each side) 1 lb. of chicken tenders or boneless chicken breasts brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Place at center of a large serving platter.  Cover and let rest 2-4 minutes.

5.  When chicken is resting, add 4 cups mixed greens and the 1 – 1 1/2 cups couscous to the vegetables in the large bowl and toss together.  Drizzle with lemon vinaigrette and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Uncover the chicken and spoon the salad mixture onto the serving platter around the chicken tenders.  Drizzle a bit more vinaigrette over the chicken and serve hot or at room temperature.

*COUSCOUS: Buy a box of couscous with roasted garlic and olive oil, such as the one made by NEAR EAST.  Don’t follow the package directions.  Sauté 2 tablespoons minced onion and 1 clove minced garlic with a pinch each of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until softened–a couple of minutes.   Add the required 1 1/4 cup water and seasoning packet and bring to a boil. Add dried couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Let sit until you need it, then fluff with a fork.  You’ll need just 1 1/2 cups; use the rest for lunches.

{printable recipe}

above:  the salad made with diced rotisserie chicken

We drank a brilliant Oregon white with this:  Tony Soter‘s North Valley “Hyland White,” 2008–made from Riesling and Traminer vines.  I don’t know if they’re still making this wine.  At a quick glance, I didn’t see it on their website, but you should always call the vineyard to see what’s available.  If they only have a couple of cases or a few bottles, it won’t show on the site.  The winery, in 2008, made only 70 cases of this wine.

Here’s our wine group tasting at Soter a couple of years ago.

two-dog kitchen

The kids had Newman for supper last night.  They’ve been apart for so long!

Sing a new song,

all photos and text copyright Alyce Morgan, 2012. no use without permission.  just ask.