I arrived in Hilton Head last month, my family, who had already been there for a few days, said they’d gone to a wonderful restaurant called Roastfish & Cornbread which had many vegetarian options and where the food was fresh and plentiful. They were also raving about the chef who spent time cooking in the kitchen and outside by a huge smoker. They had fallen in love.
The second to last night of our trip we went to the restaurant so that I could try it and it was so amazing that we went back again the next night for our last dinner before heading home. (You can imagine if they repeated the same restaurant this many times that most of the other options in the area were nothing better than mediocre.)
Roastfish & Cornbread was incredible. The wide variety of food items on the menu, the focus on preparing fresh, healthy, natural foods and the friendliness of the servers and head chef and owner, David Young, offered this restaurant an incredibly warm, local vibe that’s perfect for when you’re on vacation and simply want to enjoy yourself.
Some of the stand out dishes we had there were the sweet potato hummus, blackened buffalo shrimp po-boy and, my personal favorite, the Ethiopian lentils with Israeli couscous which was served on a bed of greens with fresh fruit, seeded crackers and pickled whole jalapenos topped with a pomegranate vinaigrette (Yes, it was absolute heaven.). It was bright, refreshing and I was shocked that lentils, couscous and fruit would match so well and make me feel so good.
When I came home, I didn’t necessarily aim to recreate the dish, but I knew I wanted to make a salad with French lentils, Israeli couscous and vinaigrette to remind me of vacation. Since summer has been winding down these past few weeks, these light, fresh salads will soon be a distant memory and I’ve been trying to keep them on my plate as often as possible until chili starts simmering on my stove.
This homemade lentil salad, which is Mediterranean-inspired, does what summer salads do best; it combines texture, lightness and simplicity in a way that’s fresh and interesting. The tenderness of the lentils and slight bite of the couscous are lifted by the light vinaigrette and the simple vegetables that are scattered throughout. This salad isn’t exactly like the one I had in Hilton Head, but it’s similar in all the ways that made that salad stand out as one of the best meals I had in the course of that week.
The salad is pretty easy to put together, too. You boil the lentils on the stove, let the couscous simmer, chop up a few vegetables, mix together the vinaigrette, and then, after just a few minutes of preparation, you have a great looking salad to enjoy.
Mediterranean Lentil & Israeli Couscous Salad
Yield: 6 salad servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
1 cup French lentils
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, divided
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup Israeli couscous (or regular if you can't find Israeli)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt*
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 bunch arugula, chopped
1 cucumber, diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup kalamata olives, halved
1 cup feta, crumbled (optional)
*To make this paste, mince the garlic and pour the salt on top. Then, flatten and smooth the garlic and salt with the side of your knife. Here's a picture of how to do it.
1. Pour the lentils into a small sauce pan and cover by at least 2 inches with water. Allow the lentils to simmer on medium heat until tender but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the lentils well and move them to a medium sized bowl, adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar and some salt and pepper, to taste. Allow the lentils to cool and stir them every few minutes to keep them from forming clumps.
2. Fill a separate small saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. When the water begins boiling add salt and couscous and cook the couscous until it is tender. (The packaged directions will give you the best idea of how long they'll take to cook.) Drain the couscous and add it to a medium sized bowl along with 1 tablespoon of oil. Allow it to cool completely and stir it occasionally.
3. To make the dressing, whisk together the garlic paste, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 3 tablespoons of oil and salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Stir the lentils and the dressing into the couscous. Chill the mixture, covered, for at least 3 hours. You can chill overnight if you'd like, too. Before serving, mix in the mint, arugula, olives, cherry tomatoes, additional salt and pepper and feta, if using.