If you visit here often, you will know that I like to play along over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, where twice a year we choose a chef whose food we explore, according to a variety of weekly themes, over the following six months. You will also, most likely, know that our chosen chef for the last six months has been the extraordinary Donna Hay.
They say there is a season for everything, and that being the case Donna Hay has definitely been the perfect chef for my "season" of late. Over the last six months I have been under a lot of pressure, on many fronts, and I have found Donna's simple, yet still packed with flavour, dishes absolutely perfect for those days when I've really been under the hammer. I'm sure that had we been cooking with a more challenging chef, there would have been many weeks in which I just wouldn't have found the time or the energy to participate. So thank you, Donna, you've been a lifesaver!
Sadly, though, it's time for us to say "Catch Ya Later Donna Hay", and choosing a dish for that final fling was no easy feat. However, just as we are saying farewell to the last vestiges of summer in my part of the world, our thoughts are turning to slightly heartier, more warming dishes for our cooler evenings, so something to fit that autumn vibe seemed appropriate.
This Roasted Pumpkin & Couscous Salad, from Donna's book "Fast, Fresh, Simple" is perfect for this time of year. It's still a salad, which is always a preferred meal option for me, anytime of year, but has warm ingredients and enough body and gusto for an autumn lunch or dinner. Actually I would even eat this in the middle of winter, and almost certainly will when it rolls around. As usual I couldn't resist the urge to ring in a few changes. The preserved lemon in the couscous and the honey-cumin dressing really spoke to me of the Middle Eastern flavours that I love, but I thought there was definitely room to "up the ante" a little. Before roasting, I brushed the pumpkin with a mixture of olive oil and za'atar (one of my favourite spice blends of thyme, sesame, sumac, salt, coriander and cumin). I replaced feta with haloumi, mint with parsley, and added in some chopped pistachios for a little extra texture.
This salad was a wonderful combination of tastes and textures - sweetness from the pumpkin and honey, saltiness from the preserved lemon and haloumi, nuttiness of the couscous, crunch of the pistachios, the slight chewiness of the cheese, and the little hits of smoky spice coming through from the za'atar and dressing. Absolutely delicious - this is definitely a dish I will be making many times over in the months ahead.
Roasted Pumpkin & Couscous Salad Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Donna Hay
from Fast, Fresh, Simple
Makes a substantial meal for 2 people, or would easily serve 3-4 people for a lighter meal or appetiser
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
800g (28 oz) pumpkin, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon za'atar (I used Sami's Kitchen)
1 cup couscous
1-1/4 cups hot vegetable stock
1/2 a preserved lemon, rind thinly sliced, flesh discarded
generous handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
generous handful pistachios, roughly chopped
200g (7 oz) haloumi, fried and sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).
Place pumpkin pieces, in a single layer, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Mix the olive oil and za'atar together, and liberally brush over the pumpkin pieces. Bake in the preheated oven until the pumpkin is tender and golden - 20 to 30 minutes depending on your pumpkin.
Meanwhile, put couscous into a medium sized bowl, add the hot vegetable stock, cover with cling film, and leave to stand until the couscous has fluffed up and absorbed all the stock - about 5 minutes. Stir in the finely sliced preserved lemon rind, chopped parsley and pistachio nuts.
Set a small, very lightly oiled, non-stick pan over medium heat, and fry the haloumi, until golden on both sides and just starting to "ooze". You can either fry it in one large block, then cut into slices once done, or you can cut it into slices first and then fry the slices individually. Remove from pan and set aside.
To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients together.
To serve the dish, arrange the pumpkin, couscous and cheese in layers on plates, and spoon over the dressing.
Before we finally say goodbye to Donna Hay (though in my case it will definitely be "Catch Ya Later" rather than goodbye), I thought I would share a little round-up of a few of my favourite dishes from the last six months. I loved these dishes and I'm sure you will too.
If you would like to get to know Donna Hay a little better, and to see all the fabulous dishes my friends have come up with, then do go visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links. And don't forget to come back next week, as we begin our cooking adventures with our new chef, the incomparable Nigel Slater.
I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace, Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads, and at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollam.