Friday, June 17, 2011

"Brown Bag Lunch": Pearl Couscous Chicken Salad

Today I had a lovely "brown bag lunch" with one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her sweet one year old daughter! Often times we pick something up from a restaurant and then go to one of our homes for a casual and easy lunch. Today I thought it would be fun, and just as easy (I just didn't even want to deal with parking and going into a restaurant at lunchtime and then walking back to my car in this 100 degree plus Texas heat), to make a quick couscous salad and take it over to her house for a tasty and healthy lunch. Even the little one enjoyed the brown bag luncheon!

I love couscous, and I especially love pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous. It is sometimes difficult to find at normal grocery stores, so if you go to a store near me and the shelf is cleared out, I most likely bought them all before you got there! Pearl couscous is a bit bigger and less fluffy in texture. It ends up being a bit more like risotto in texture and composition. You can pair anything with couscous, so it is a great staple to keep on hand. Today I added chicken, grape tomatoes and spinach. Very flavorful and full of great protein and vitamins.

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One package of Near East Basil and Herb Pearl Couscous (prepare as directed with water and olive oil). You can use whatever type of couscous you would like, Basil and Herb is just my favorite.
One chicken bouillon cube (or one tablespoon of bouillon, or just salt and pepper to your taste)
2 breasts of cooked chicken, cut into one inch pieces
2 cups of fresh spinach, washed and roughly cut into smaller pieces (these will wilt down considerably)
1 cup of grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1. Prepare the couscous according to the box: boil the water with the olive oil and couscous.

2. Add a chicken bouillon cube to the boiling couscous for flavoring.
3. Once you have reached a full boil, reduce the heat to medium-high so that the couscous is simmering. Add the contents of the spice package (according to the directions on the couscous box). Stir to combine.

4. Let the mixture come back to a low boil for about 5 to 6 minutes.
5. Remove the couscous from the heat, and cover and let sit. I added about 2 Tablespoons of chicken broth to the couscous before I covered and let it sit. This just adds a bit of moisture to the mix, as I knew I was going to put the dish in the fridge for a bit. I feel that food always dries out a bit in the fridge, so I always like to add a bit of extra moisture to a dish if I know I will be putting it directly into the fridge.
6. Cut and wash the 2 cups of spinach.

7. Wash and cut the 1 cup of grape tomatoes.

8. Cut the baked chicken into 1 inch pieces.

9. Add the spinach, tomatoes and chicken to the couscous and stir to combine.

10. Transfer into a serving dish and refrigerate for at least an hour.
11. Enjoy on a hot (did I mention that it was over 100 degrees here?) afternoon.

I paired this cold couscous chicken salad with a fruit salad made up of watermelon and cantaloupe, my favorite summertime fruits!

I then packed everything up in this wonderful glass glassware from The Container Store (one of my favorite places in the world...however...I do find at least 10 things there each time I go that I absolutely cannot live without...including...this wonderful set of glassware!) 

Everything fit perfectly into my fancy brown bag, for our "brown bag lunch," healthy and delicious, with a side of wonderful conversation! 

Who can you bring a "brown bag lunch" to? It is so easy and such a fun change to the normal grab and go lunches that are not always the most healthy, and are also scarfed down quickly so that we can get on with the rest of our day. Take an extra few moments and share a homemade meal with someone you love, or with someone you would like to connect with and know more about on a personal level. Lunch, conversation and friendship are a wonderful things to share!

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