This is one delicious summertime salad that is sure to impress. The couscous starter with shrimp & vanilla oil will steal the show at your next BBQ or fancy sit down dinner. Mis en place can be adusted for chic individual portions or a for a crowd.
Couscous is a pasta that is made from semolina or, in some regions, from coarsely ground barley or millet. The semolina is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets. It is labor intensive to make by hand and used to be done by groups of women. Glad we have machines today! It's origins can be traced waaaay back to North Africa and later it's migration to Provence and Brittany around 1359.
Of course, you don't have to get all fancy with the ring of cucumbers and shrimp on top, but it does give it that je-ne-sais-quoi. Recipe to follow...
Couscous Salad with Shrimp and Vanilla Oil
20 shrimp cooked and de-veined with tail on if possible
1 Medium cucumber
1 Cup small grain couscous (tabouleh can be used too if desired)
1 Red bell pepper
1/2 Bunch mint shredded fine
1/2 Bunch chives minced
1/ 4 Olive Oil
1/2 cup neutral oil like vegetable or peanut
2 Vanilla bean pods whole
4 Star anise
Ring molds with no bottom in individual sizes or one large one for a party
1. Cook couscous according to package instructions. Normally you boil the right quantity of water, dump the couscous in, put a lid on it, turn off the heat under the burner, let it steam for five minutes and then fluff up with a fork. Simple. Nothing to it. Set aside.
2. For the vanilla oil: in a small pot heat vegetable oil on low heat – not hot – just to warm it. Split vanilla pod in two vertically and using the tip of a paring knife scrape all the little bean seeds and add them to oil. Add the pods too and the star anise. Let infuse off heat while preparing the rest of the salad.
3. Buy shrimp cooked and de-veined unless you can get fresh shrimp. In that case, de-vein and boil quickly until they turn pink. Remove and refresh under cold water. Set aside. Take most of the tails off the shrimp but reserve some whole for decoration if desired.
4. With 1/2 of the cucumber brunoise into tiny cubes 1/4" X 1/4". Don't use the seeds. Reserve. Repeat small brunoise with red bell pepper.
5. Zest orange and mix with juice of one lemon and 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add chives and mint. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Using a fork or your hands mix the lemon/herb dressing and brunoised vegetables with couscous. Add more olive oil and lemon if necessary.
7. Take remaining cucumber and slice one side of cylinder off lengthwise. This way, after cutting the individual slices, you can place them in a ring mold and they will lie flush with the plate. Using a mandolin (be CAREFUL of your fingers!!!!) slice the cucumber 2mm thin.
8. To make cucumber ring take a ring mold of desired size and rub inside a little with vanilla oil to keep the slices from sticking. Layer cucumber slices overlapping all the way around mold and refrigerate until ready to use. It is best to do this on the plate you intend to serve the salad on. You will have trouble transferring it otherwise!
9. Fill cucumber ring with couscous salad to the height of the cucumber slices. Mix shrimps with vanilla oil and layer over the top however you want. Make it pretty!
10. Decorate with vanilla pods, mint leaves, or a tomato rose if desired and refrigerate until right before serving. Gently slide the ring mold up and off before bringing to the table.