Whenever I am planning a menu I try to balance a few things:

1. Seasonality (food in season is always cheaper and of better quality, although I make exceptions for some frozen veg). If seasonal is also local, even better.
2. Colours (I just love eating colourful food, having lots of different colours on the plate; a kind of ‘Eat the Rainbow’ philosophy. Our eyes are the biggest drivers of appetite, so why deprive them?
3. Textures (for example, by adding toasted nuts or putting raw and cooked elements together you can vary the mouthfeel of every mouthful)
4. Temperatures (some foods should only ever be served hot, but they are often complemented by a cold dip or salad)
5. Tastes (hot, sweet, sour, savoury, umami).

What this all adds up to is contrast.

Here’s another tasty and colourful side dish that will work well hot or cold, as an accompaniment to a main meat course or as a vegan or vegetarian option on its own. It looks stunning on a buffet, too.

Giant couscous, also known as ptitim, or Israeli couscous i,  in effect, pasta, so it takes flavour very well.  I sometimes cook down a tin of chopped tomatoes with rosemary, chilli flakes and black olives, and toss that through, or make a quick basil pesto to liven it up.

Ingredients

Serves 4

400g giant/Israeli couscous, wholemeal if preferred

1 bunch beetroot

1tbsp poppy seeds

1tbsp nigella (kalonji) seeds

Olive oil to taste

Sea salt and black pepper

Juice of half a lemon

Method

Cook the couscous in plenty of salted boiling water, as you would for pasta. The trick is not to overcook it – I always give it 1-2 minutes less than it says on the packet – so just six minutes, then drain and refresh quickly with cold water to wash out any remaining glueyness. To stop the grains getting claggy while cooling I spritz with a little olive oil and mix it through thoroughly with a fork.

To make the puree, peel the beetroot and cut into even-sized chunks. Toss them in a little olive oil with sea salt and black pepper, wrap securely in a foil parcel and roast in the oven at 180C for 60-90 minutes. They should be tender when poked. Tip them into a food processor or use a hand blender (wear an apron and watch walls and surfaces for scarlet splashes!), add a sploosh of extra-virgin olive oil and blitz to a fine puree. Check and adjust seasoning if necessary.

When the couscous has cooled, stir through half the beetroot puree, and add the seeds. Add more puree until you’re happy with the colour, consistency and flavour, and season with a squeeze of lemon juice.

How does this recipe meet my 5-point checklist? Beetroot is in season, colourful, earthy and sweet, while the seeds add crunch and contrast.  Serve this salad with a piece of crispy pan-fried seabass or roast chicken to complete the flavour profile.

© Linda Galloway 2020