created at: 2013-02-20

When I was a sophomore in college, I tried to become a vegetarian. Despite my best efforts, I only lasted a week, and I’m convinced it gave me mono. (That’s a self-diagnosis.) I’ve since convinced myself that I’m just one of those people who needs some meat in my diet.

But that doesn’t mean I have to flex my carnivore muscles at every single meal. I love non-meat foods, such as vegetables and grains. And going meatless for a few days at a time every once in a while makes me feel rejuvenated and healthy—and three or four days is just short enough not to land me in bed, lethargic and craving red meat.

For many people, Purim ends up being a haze of hamantaschen, wine, and hearing loss. (Those graggers are like the vuvuzelas of Jewish celebrations.) But I’ve learned that the perfect time to plan one of my meatless cycles is during this merry holiday, in honor of Queen Esther, who is known as the “vegetarian queen.”

According to tradition, Esther became a vegetarian when she moved into the king’s palace because she didn’t have access to kosher food there. She lived mostly on seeds and nuts, which many Jews try to incorporate into their Purim celebration as a nod to her commitment and legacy.

So if you’re serving a vegetarian feast at your Purim party this year, I’d like to share a salad worth adding to the menu. I love Israeli couscous because it’s so easy to dress up. Here, I’ve added some vegetables, avocado, dried cranberries, and, in true Purim fashion, some walnuts. Bring it all together with an orange and mint vinaigrette, and you’ve got a dish that could turn a meat eater into a vegetarian—at least for a few days.

Israeli Couscous Salad
3 cups water
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small cucumber, seeded, quartered, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small fennel bulb, cored, quartered, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small avocado, cut into ¼-inch pieces
¾ cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
¾ cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

¼ cup orange juice from 1 orange, plus 2 teaspoons zest
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mint, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine water and couscous in large saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover pan and simmer until no water remains and couscous is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to large mixing bowl, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Stir until oil is evenly distributed, breaking up any large clumps of couscous, and allow to cool to room temperature.

2. While couscous cools, whisk together orange juice, zest, sherry vinegar, mustard, and mint in medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Once couscous is cool, stir in cucumber, fennel, avocado, dried cranberries, and walnuts. Stir in vinaigrette until well-dressed. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.