Speaking of the Mexican salsa pico de gallo, I’ve found that once you’ve learned the basic recipe, it is very easy to build some more elaborate dishes around it. When I first came to Canada, I read about a recipe for a tomato and cucumber couscous salad; I did not know what couscous was, but as a graduate student, I was willing to try anything that cooked in 5 minutes. The dressing included lemon juice, olive oil, green onions and parsley. I had some leftover pico de gallo, which already had tomatoes; the lime juice, onion and cilantro in the salsa would act as substitutes for the lemon juice, green onions and parsley in the original recipe, so all I needed to add was cucumber, olive oil and cooked couscous. It was a great success, and after that, I made my version even when there was no leftover salsa. I never looked back, except at some point I added chopped green onions for an extra punch of flavour. This is how I prepare this recipe:
I cook the couscous first, following the directions on the package, minus the oil. My favourite brand is Casbah™ organic, regular or whole wheat. While the couscous is cooling down, I wash all the produce; I keep a spray bottle with a 50-50 water-white vinegar solution next to the sink, to spray all my veggies before scrubbing and rinsing them with water. I start the salad directly in the serving bowl by whisking together the lime juice and olive oil, with just a pinch of salt. Then, I incorporate chopped green onions, also with the whisk.
Peeling the cucumber is optional; I peel them when I have field cucumbers, but leave some skin on if I am using English cucumbers. Cut lengthwise into quarters, then chop and mix in.
I chop tomatoes, white onions and cilantro, and add to the bowl. Alternatively, I use leftover pico de gallo if I’ve prepared a fresh batch a day or two before. The couscous salad does not call for hot peppers, so I usually prepare my salsa mild, with the chopped hot peppers served on the side; this measure caters to my family’s preference, and also provides leftovers suitable to use in other recipes. However, in this particular case, if the salsa is hot, it adds and even more Mexican twist to the salad!
The couscous is probably cool enough by now, so I incorporate it to the salad, and adjust seasoning with salt, if needed. It is nice eaten right away, with more salt and freshly ground pepper sprinkled over individual servings, to taste. The flavours mature gracefully over night, but I would not keep it for any longer, because it becomes soggy, especially if I’ve used leftover salsa. I serve it as a side for chicken or pork dishes, or open a can of sardines in an emergency; for a vegetarian option, I would add cooked chickpeas to make it a full meal.