With the holiday season now upon us, it’s very easy to overindulge in baking, candy, alcohol and other snacks at holiday functions or just day-to-day. I am a definite culprit, as I find it hard to turn down a glass of wine, a hunk of cheese, or a delectable home-made Christmas treat. I’m also that jerk (or hero, depending how you look at it) that bakes all weekend for the fun of it, then brings the goodies into the office for everyone else to pig out on.
Knowing that the entire month of December will feature unhealthy food options around every corner, I try my best to balance my diet by eating exceptionally well when I’m at home. This salad serves that purpose beautifully. It is full of fresh, crunchy vegetables and black beans, as well as chunks of ripe, juicy mango. The curry dressing only gets better the longer it sits, and Israeli couscous provides the perfect base for all of the ingredients to mix and mingle. I like to serve it atop a bed of greens for a great weekday lunch, with a few sprigs of cilantro adding the perfect finishing touch.
I took a food culture course during my undergrad, and we were assigned Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” as one of the course texts. As you may remember, I am not a big fan of non-fiction, but this book really grabbed me and I’ve gone back to it a number of times since that class.
It’s called an eater’s manifesto, and the tenets are simple: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” See? Simple. Except that “food” means real food, not “food” (he uses Go-Gurt tubes as the example of an un-food). And what does “not too much ” really mean? How many calories is that? The “mostly plants” part is pretty easy to figure out.
The book describes the unhealthy relationship we have developed with food as a result of industrializing the food system, and relying on advertisers to tell us what to eat. One famous excerpt from this book describes Pollan showing the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans. “Guilt” was the top response. If that seems unexceptional, consider the response of the French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.” I am still trying to train my brain to think like that!
If you are at all interested in food – which I will say is likely, since you are reading this blog! – I encourage you to read this for yourself. It will change the way you think about food.
At the very least, make this salad and pat yourself on the back for making a healthy choice, and revel in the fact that it’s also delicious. Really the best of both worlds.
- 1 cup Israeli couscous (regular couscous is fine too, as is quinoa)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1-2 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
- ½ English cucumber, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup)
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro (optional)
- Mixed greens, for serving (optional)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the couscous and stir until coated in oil. Toast 1-2 minutes, until starting to turn golden brown. Add 2 cups of water and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain any leftover water.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: combine all dressing ingredients and whisk/shake until well-combined. Pour the dressing over the still-warm couscous and toss to combine.
- Transfer the dressed couscous to a large bowl or casserole dish. Add the beans, mango, cucumber and red pepper and toss to combine. Sprinkle the cilantro over top, if using.
- Serve on a bed of mixed greens. Chill before serving. The salad can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Source: Adapted from a fabulous cookbook called Spilling the Beans. The original recipe uses quinoa in place of couscous. Lots of lovely, healthy recipes in this book!