When I first discovered Bob Red Mill’s new line of whole wheat pearl couscous at the BlogHer Food Conference in Atlanta, I was instantly hooked by the nutty flavor. I even smuggled a few sample bags back to San Francisco, and couldn’t wait to play around with the wholesome, round bites of pasta. Except that I actually did wait quite a bit – two entire months – before finding the perfect opportunity to use these precious samples.
The opportunity came in the form of an orzo salad recipe I came across while flipping through Heidi Swanson’s superb cookbook, Super Natural Every Day). I decided to substitute the whole wheat pearl couscous for the orzo to add some wholesomeness while keeping the bite of a small, salad-friendly pasta.
But the combination of a broccoli pesto with broccoli florets, avocado and crunchy nuts were what initially drew me to the recipe. I’ve been known to easily polish off several cups of broccoli – raw, steamed, sauteed, or roasted. Yet I had never tried a broccoli pesto. Clearly, the time was nigh.
Partially because, as a broccoli nut, I simply couldn’t help myself, but also because I love any excuse to include more veggies, I amped up the broccoli florets to couscous ratio. Tinkering with Heidi’s recipe a bit further, I used pistachios instead of pine nuts in my pesto because I love their nutty flavor and already had pistachios on hand.
The result was a spectacularly creamy yet healthy salad, with a soft crunch and freshness from the broccoli florets, creaminess from the avocado, a nutty crunch from the pistachios, and a bright and richly flavored pesto sauce. I enjoyed this slightly warmed for dinner and room temperature for lunch the following day. To make it extremely barbecue- and picnic-friendly (and avoid any fears about leaving the salad out in the sun too long), I suspect you could eliminate the Greek yogurt component entirely, as the avocado adds sufficient creaminess on its own.
In Heidi’s book, she recommends dressing the salad with 2/3 of the pesto, but I cut the pesto ingredients down a bit so you don’t end up with leftovers that aren’t quite enough for a second salad. However, in doing so, I decided there was no harm in leaving in the garlic, parmesan and lemon amounts (admittedly, I have a constant stuffy nose problem, so I prefer stronger flavors). If you’re unsure, halve those, do an initial blend in the food processor, taste the pesto, and add more garlic and parmesan to suit your preference; but definitely add more lemon.
Vegan option: add more salt (maybe even some nutritional yeast) in lieu of parmesan, and either substitute soy yogurt for Greek yogurt or leave yogurt out entirely (the avocado contributes a fair amount of creaminess itself).
8 oz. whole wheat pearl couscous
5 c. broccoli, chopped and stems separated from florets
2 garlic cloves
1/2 c. pistachios, toasted
1/3 c. parmesan, grated
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
warm water, as needed
Bring water to a boil over medium high heat. Add couscous and 1 tsp. salt, and return to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer until al dente, about 20 minutes. (Or follow package instructions.) Drain very well, and chill in refrigerator, stirring periodically.
Meanwhile, bring 2 inches of water to boil in a pot with a steamer basket insert. Cover, and steam broccoli stems only for 1 minute to take off the raw edge. Remove stems from steamer basket, run under cold water until cool, and drain well. Add broccoli florets to steamer basket in pot, cover, and steam for 2 minutes. Remove florets, run under water until cool, and drain well.
To make the pesto, combine 1 c. broccoli stems, 1/2 c. broccoli florets, garlic, pistachios, parmesan, salt, and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice in food processor. Pulse about 3 to 5 times to start breaking down the broccoli, garlic and pistachios. Stream in the olive oil and scoop in the yogurt, and pulse until smooth.
Do ahead: couscous, broccoli, and pesto can be prepared a day or two in advance, and stored in separate refrigerated, airtight containers. However, make sure to stir couscous once it has cooled (and perhaps toss with a wee bit of olive oil) to prevent it from sticking together in a gloppy mass like other pasta.
Right before serving, toss chilled couscous and remaining broccoli (florets and stems!) with pesto, thinning with warm water as needed to loosen up the pesto. Squeeze any remaining lemon juice over the salad (or even some lemon zest!), and add salt to taste if desired. Peel, pit, and slice the avocado (if you do this earlier, toss in some lemon juice so it doesn’t brown badly), and then gently fold avocado slices into the salad. Garnish with toasted pistachios.