Becky’s Israeli Couscous Salad
I recently met Becky Nero – mom, cook, and creator of the blog, Becky’s Big Bytes, filled with her funny insights and useful tips. I enjoy asking what other people love at Trader Joe’s, so I asked Becky and she didn’t hold back in telling me! Being a mom myself, I asked for Becky’s pointers on cooking with (and for) kids, and she had some great ones. Becky also shared her fantastic Trader Joe’s-inspired recipe using Israeli Couscous (recipe below).
Becky: So many things to love, so little space to tell. My 2 young sons, ages 7 and 2, love the Blueberries & Cream/Vanilla and Strawberry/Banana yogurt packs. I love that they don’t have artificial colors in them. I am addicted to TJ’s Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt. I eat it as a snack w/ TJs toasted sliced almonds and TJ’s semi sweet chocolate chips. I also use it as a light salad dressing and just mix a few teaspoons with fresh lemon juice, salt/pepper and whatever fresh herbs from the garden.
Love the multigrain pancake mix, lite feta cheese, Thai Curry Sauce, anything from the candy department, their well-priced organic produce, their coffees, Ciabbata rolls, frozen veggies, the Chocolate Lovers Dilemma cheesecake!!!, their California rolls for a nice “mommy lunch”, and their jams. Their white flour makes my pizza dough the best, whole wheat pastas for cheap, and all of their stocks for quick soups. I always have these on hand as I don’t make my own chicken or vegetable stock. I could go on and on. I love that I can zip in and out of the store quickly and always get reliable service. I also love their guarantee policy. If you are not happy with a product, return for a refund!
Becky: Find a way to make cooking work. Don’t give up because your health and your family’s health are too important. The house cleaning can wait. Kids need to start off on the right foot with good nutrition. Don’t view cooking as drudgery and then it will be a joyful event for you and the family! Also, don’t become a slave to your family by becoming a short order cook. Everyone needs to eat the same thing or at least try 3 bites!
Becky: Let them help as much as possible (without stressing yourself out!). Give the real little ones very simple tasks (stirring w/ wooden spoons or even just playing on the floor with plastic containers so they can copy you), make sure you have step stools ready, and that everyone gets to take a turn for less chaos. Don’t take it all so seriously; you’re not painting the Sistine Chapel so when there is a mess or mistake, don’t go nuts on your kids! If you’re in a rush and you really don’t need their “help”, you can always use the kitchen timer to tell them when the helping time is “up”. The timer works wonders in my house for many things like taking turns, etc. Once their time is up, I thank them profusely for helping and then send them on their merry way to play with something else . Also, let them taste-test and smell everything!! My son Luca was only 3 when he started his love affair with dried herbs. To this day, he still pours dried oregano in the palm of his hand and eats it just like that! You never know what kids will like. Don’t assume their tastebuds want boring food. Eventually they will come around but you do have to offer them variety and make it all positive. Don’t give up! (My kids like to suck on lemons!)
Deana: My kids also surprise me with the things they like to eat (ginger, seaweed, etc). Never assume! OK, you’ve just been rescued from a desert island. You sit down to your first real meal in months. What is it?
Becky: I love my homemade pizza or any kind of seafood, like lobster fra diavolo; that would be a great meal after being rescued or the last meal to eat before heading to the electric chair…not that it would ever happen!! LOL
Deana: Any last thoughts about TJ’s?
Becky: I really love the “sample lady”! My cooking has been in a rut lately and every time I go to TJs I get to try something new for free and then end up buying something I wouldn’t have normally purchased. Like the Thai Curry Sauces….I use these to spice up a bland rice dish and just add some fresh chopped cilantro or mint and suddenly, my senses are alive again.
Deana: Becky, thanks for a fun interview and for sharing your recipe. My family really likes Israeli couscous and the almonds, cranberries, basil, and feta you added were a great combination with the sweet dressing.
Becky’s Israeli Couscous Salad
Becky: This is a great versatile side dish and a huge crowd pleaser! Enjoy!! The great thing about this salad is that you can swap out different ingredients. See the variations listed at the end.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sugar
1 box Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous (found in the pasta/rice aisle)
1/3 cup unsalted dry toasted sliced almonds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 oz Lite Feta cheese, crumbled or 2 oz Crumbled Feta (regular or fat free)
1.) Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2.) Follow cooking instructions on the Israeli Couscous box. Add cooked couscous to the bowl containing the dressing. Toss with the dressing and let it cool (about 20-30 minutes), stirring occasionally. The couscous will absorb the dressing as it cools.
If you don’t have Israeli couscous, substitute 1 1/2 cups of dried orzo or TJ’s Harvest Grains. Cook until al dente, drain and then add to the dressing.
If you don’t have fresh basil, substitute fresh parsley (or a combination of both) . If you don’t like almonds, substitute toasted pignoli nuts.
3.) Add the almonds, cranberries, and basil. Toss the feta cheese in lightly. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
Deana: Excellent advice. Any tips on cooking with/for kids or keeping them occupied while you cook?
Deana: You certainly know your way around Trader Joe’s! What is your single most important bit of mealtime advice for new moms or busy families?
Deana: Becky, what are your favorite finds at Trader Joe’s? What keeps you coming back?