picnic fare: couscous salad with cucumber, feta, and arugula

When the weather looks like this:

picnic time!

You have to round up your family:

All smiles.

…and go eat and drink outside:



This is a really simple salad that I threw together for an afternoon at the park. There’s nothing special about it – in fact, it was mostly an excuse to use up some sad-looking cucumbers and soon-to-become-moldy feta that I found in the fridge. Please consider it more of a blueprint for a delicious salad made up of any pasta, rice, or other grain. Don’t like feta? Substitute Parmesan, or omit the cheese altogether. Want some extra crunch? Add some toasted almonds. Feel like there’s not enough color? Add some shredded carrot or diced red pepper. Etc, etc, etc.

Picnic time!


Couscous Salad with Cucumber, Feta, and Arugula

serves 4 as a smallish main dish; probably up to 6 as a side


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • kosher salt
  • 1-2 cups fresh arugula, roughly chopped
  • 1 large cucumber or 3 smallish cucumbers (I used 3 Kirby cucumbers that I bought at the Asian market last week; as with eggplants, I find smaller cucumbers to be firmer, more flavorful, and less seedy)
  • 1 cup feta cheese, roughly chopped or broken into 1/2 inch cubes
  • About 1/4 cup any vinaigrette, plus more to taste (I used I used some leftover Mustardy Vinaigrette)


Prepare the couscous: set a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. After a minute, add the dry couscous and a good-sized pinch of salt. Toast, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown lightly, about 3-4 minutes.

Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, about 10-12 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the couscous grains are plump. Dump the warm couscous in a large bowl and add the arugula. Toss for a mute or so until the arugula is wilted and the couscous is starting to cool. Set aside.

While the couscous is cooking, you can prepare your cucumber. Peel the cukes if you want, then cut in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumber halves into 1/2 inch wide spears and then cut crosswise into 1/2 inch dice. Toss with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt (I know this is a lot; trust me) and let sit in a small bowl for about 10 minutes. This is going to lightly pickle the cucumber chunks, concentrating their flavor and reducing the sogginess of your salad.

After the cucumbers have mellowed, dump them into a strainer and rinse off the excess salt. Drain well and add to the bowl with the couscous and arugula. Add the feta and your dressing and toss well. Taste for seasoning; it might need more dressing and/or salt.

Refrigerate until well-chilled, then serve with ice water, chilled white wine, and pals.


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