“I could fix this if I just had some pasta…”

Joe and I like to joke that I’m the MacGyver of the kitchen. Where others see only an empty pantry and some sad, limp vegetables, I see a feast, and can usually throw something pretty spectacular together (if I do say so myself) from meager ingredients.

Last weekend, before I’d made a visit to the market, we were faced with one of those nights where neither of us wanted to punish ourselves with take out, but there wasn’t much in the way of healthful food in the house.

But, with a lot ingenuity, and a few staples I always keep on hand for moments like these, Chef MacGyver put together a Mediterranean inspired cous cous salad, complete with ground beef, raisins and lots of herbage. The warm salad was completely filling and satisfying; the only addition I’ve made below to my original recipe is a bit of mint; if I’d had a bit of mint on hand, I think the salad would’ve been taken to a whole new level.

Readers, a little tomato paste and harissa can be a wondrous thing. More times than I can remember, one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot. Recipe, after the jump.

Warm Cous Cous Salad with Harissa Scented Beef and Golden Raisins

  • 1/2 cup dried golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium sized carrots, peeled and small diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, small diced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 lb ground beef, preferably grass fed
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp harissa
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat cous cous + 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup packed whole parsley leaves
  • 2 tbsp julienned mint
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • –dash white wine vinegar–I like moscatel white vinegar (optional)

In a small heat proof bowl, pour enough warm water over the raisins to rehydrate them so that they are plump. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add in the olive oil, then the onion and carrots. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Saute until the onions are almost translucent and the carrots are beginning to soften. Stir in the tomato paste, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the onions are cooked through and the carrots al dente. Remove the vegetables to a separate bowl. Raise heat to medium high. Add in the ground beef, and season liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Allow the meat to sear, then break apart with a spoon (though you want the meat broken apart, bigger hunks will be more satisfying in the final salad). Season with the dried thyme, cinnamon, and as much cayenne pepper as you’d like. Cook until browned and the meat is nearly cooked through, then reduce heat to low and stir in the harissa until it is incorporated into the meat.

Meanwhile, pour the boiling water over the cous cous and 1 tsp of kosher salt in a large heat proof bowl. Cover with foil or plastic wrap, and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain the water from the raisins, and set aside. Next, using a fork (don’t use a spoon; it isn’t as effective and can actually mush the pasta), remove the foil/plastic cover from the cous cous and fluff. Add the cooked vegetables, ground beef, drained raisins, lemon juice, lemon zest, parsley leaves and mint to the cous cous. Gently mix together, season with vinegar (if you like a more acidic salad, like Joe does), then serve.

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