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Alex Jackson’s Spring Vegetable, Cous-Cous & Herb Salad

‘Cous-cous salad’ is a phrase that strikes fear in many hearts, conjuring images of a soggy, raisin-strewn yellow mess that comes in square plastic pots. But fear not! When used sparingly in a salad like this, cous-cous is a good base to bring a few ingredients together. The grain itself should by no means be the bulk of the dish, but used wisely it adds a lovely nubbly texture and helps to soak up buttery juices. I originally made this dish

on a crisp, sunny April afternoon, as the first of the British asparagus and tiny Jersey Royals appeared in the shops. A little yogurt thinned and seasoned with cumin or caraway seeds is a delicious accompaniment, and a blob of harissa on the side is optional but advised. Incidentally, if you omit the butter then this dish is vegan, and not much poorer for it at all.

Serves 4

300g/101⁄2oz Jersey Royals or other baby waxy potatoes, washed well

1 bunch of green asparagus, tough woody ends of stalks snapped off and chopped into 1-cm/1⁄3-inch lengths

50g/13⁄4oz green beans, topped, tailed and chopped into 1-cm/1⁄3-inch lengths

50g/13⁄4oz podded broad (fava) beans

1 tsp caraway seeds, gently toasted in a dry pan and cracked in a pestle and mortar

25g/1oz/2 tbsp salted butter

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Juice of 1 lemon

1⁄2 small firm cucumber, finely diced (1 tbsp when finely chopped)

4 cherry plum tomatoes on the vine or 1 medium tomato, finely diced

1 spring onion (scallion), finely diced

50g/13⁄4oz pea shoots or rocket (arugula), roughly chopped

1 ⁄4 bunch of mint, roughly chopped

1 ⁄4 bunch of coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped

Aleppo chilli flakes (optional)

1 packet of courgette (zucchini) flowers (optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

For the cous-cous:

100g/31⁄2oz dry cous-cous 1 tsp olive oil
Sea salt

Boil the potatoes in salted water for approximately 15 minutes. Towards the end of cooking time, add the chopped asparagus, chopped green beans and broad beans to the pan and continue to boil for a further 2 minutes.

Put the kettle on to boil. Place the cous-cous in a shallow bowl, season lightly with salt and add the olive oil. Rub the cous-cous together with your hands until you think that all the grains are thinly coated in oil. Pour over boiling water from the kettle, just enough to cover the grains, then wrap the bowl tightly in clingfilm (plastic wrap). Leave to stand for 5 minutes or until the grains have plumped up and lost their bite. Remove the clingfilm and fluff the grains carefully with a fork. Discard any that have clumped together in a layer at the bottom.

When the potatoes, asparagus and beans are all cooked, drain and then toss them with the toasted caraway seeds, butter, 1 tbsp olive oil and the juice of half of the lemon. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Combine the diced cucumber, tomatoes and spring onion in a mixing bowl with the roughly chopped pea shoots or rocket and herbs. Season lightly with salt, more olive oil and the juice of the remaining half of the lemon.

To serve, divide the warm buttery vegetables between four plates. Spoon over a little of the cooked cous-cous. There should be far less cous-cous than vegetables, around a 1:4 ratio. Arrange the herb salad in one corner of the plate. Try not to mix everything too much: part of the joy of this salad is to build each mouthful as you eat. Sprinkle with Aleppo chilli flakes and tear over the courgette flowers, if using, and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.

The featured recipe is from Alex Jackson’s Sardine: Simple seasonal Provençal cooking