A light and easy salad full of flavorful veggies, tasty Parmesan cheese, and topped with fresh basil. A perfect side dish for summer cookouts.
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Summertime is all about grilling, cookouts, and get-togethers. I don’t know about you, but I always struggle to come up with a side dish or just something kind of light to bring to a cookout. At every cookout, you’ve got your staples – potato salad, macaroni salad, pasta salad – and I’m not opposed to any of these items. I can put down the potato salad with the best of them. But, sometimes it’s nice to lighten it up a little bit. Especially when you’re also putting down things like ribs and burgers. All of my herbs have started to pop over the past few weeks and I wanted to make something that utilized those herbs. Basil seemed appropriate for this dish – it’s summery and bright. And it combines well with all the other flavors to create this Summertime Couscous Veggie Basil Salad.
The ‘base’ of this salad is couscous. Couscous is a tiny pasta made from wheat. It’s super easy to make, really versatile, and you can get it at almost any grocery store nowadays. Make sure to look for ‘instant’ couscous. This type only takes about five minutes to prepare. For this recipe, I used plain couscous. Look for the kind without a seasoning packet. This will allow you to flavor the couscous as you please. Just prepare according to the package instructions. This recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups cooked couscous. I prepared the entire package, used 2 1/2 cups of it, and then saved the remainder for another recipe.
The next thing you’ll want to do is prepare the tomatoes for roasting. This recipe uses a pint of grape tomatoes. It’s funny – I don’t care for raw grape tomatoes, but I think roasted grape tomatoes are delicious. They develop such a distinct flavor in the roasting process. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and place the tomatoes on a roasting pan. Any old pan will do. I used my trusty old pizza pan and it worked just fine. Toss the tomatoes in a tsp. or so of olive oil (or desired cooking oil) and a generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes. Toss the tomatoes around every 10 minutes or so to ensure that they cook evenly. They’ll sort of break open and some of the sugars will ooze out onto the pan. Don’t be alarmed – this gives you that nice caramelization you want. After the tomatoes were cooked and cooled, I cut them into quarters. This is just a personal preference – you can leave them whole if you like.
The other thing you can do at this point is prepare the corn. I used frozen corn because it’s fast and easy. Feel free to use grilled corn if you like. That would definitely bump up the flavor even more. But, if you go the frozen corn route – just prepare 2 cups according to the package instruction and drain when finished.
Next in line is the dressing. This dressing is really simple. It’s just 3 Tbsp. of avocado oil, 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, and 1/2 tsp. of agave nectar. Combine these three things in a mason jar, cap it, and shake to combine (I learned that trick from The Pioneer Woman). If you don’t have avocado oil – don’t worry. Olive oil or any other oil that’s suitable for dressings will do. I found some avocado oil recently and wanted to test it out. The flavor is subtle and earthy and works great for salads.
Basil is kind of that quintessential summertime herb. It’s really easy to grow and kind of replenishes itself as you pick it. Just take a bunch of it and chiffonade (fancy French word for chopping into little pieces). Go until you have about 1/2 cup of freshly chopped basil. You can use more or less depending on your basil-love level.
Now it all comes together. I find it works best to add the ingredients in two ‘stages’. Add half of all the ingredients, stir to combine, and then add the other half and stir once again. This ensures that everything is evenly distributed. So, add half the couscous, corn, tomatoes, basil, dressing, 1/4 cup of shaved parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup if chopped almonds, and a generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Stir to combine and then do the whole thing again. Add a little more shaved parmesan (or other salty cheese such as feta) and chopped almonds (or other nut) on top. The cheese gives it a nice, salty bite and the almonds add a crunch factor. Now you have a light, healthy, and simple dish to share at your next cookout.
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Pottery by Bill Gossman.
- Prepare the couscous according to package instructions.
- Prepare the corn according to package instructions.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place tomatoes on cooking sheet and toss in 1 tsp. olive oil and generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper.
- Roast tomatoes for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so.
- Chop tomatoes into quarters once cooled - this is optional.
- Chop 1/2 cup of fresh basil.
- Combine avocado oil, vinegar, and agave in small mason jar. Cover and shake to combine.
- Place half of all ingredients in a serving bowl. Stir to combine. Add remaining half of ingredients and stir once again.
- Top with a little more parmesan and chopped almonds.
Feta or other salty cheese can be used in place of parmesan.
Almonds could be substituted for other nuts.
Adjust salt and pepper levels to your liking.