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A Couscous Salad That Doesn’t Actually Include Any Couscous

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Before you ask, the headline is not an attempt to trick you with a salad made from Israeli couscous (which we already know is not real couscous). There truly isn’t any couscous in this salad​, because, the “couscous” in question is actually okra—the seeds from large​ okra pods to be exact. They make a surprisingly great stand-in for pearl couscous and they're naturally gluten-free (and grain-free) to boot.

If you aren’t a fan of okra, don’t be turned off by the idea of eating okra seeds—okra couscous isn't slimy in the slightest.

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Pearl couscous pretender
Pearl couscous pretender Photo by James Ransom

Today’s recipe comes from Clark Barlowe, the kitchen-scrap-aficionado​ behind strawberry top pesto and Executive Chef and Owner of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To make this salad, ideally, you’ll be starting large, overgrown okra. (It will work with regular okra, too, you'll just need a lot more of them to get the required amount of seeds, and the resulting “couscous” will be smaller.) If you have a surplus in your own garden, you’re all set, so proceed. If not, head to your local farmers market, talk to vendors selling okra, and let them know you’re interested in purchasing any overgrown crops the farmers would be willing to sell. The benefits are two-fold: 1) With any luck, you’ll be able to pick up overgrown okra the following week, and 2) as Barlowe points out, “This will have the added bonus of allowing you to further your relationship with them—you may be surprised what you are offered in the future.”

Once you’ve procured your extra-large okra, making okra couscous is easy: Just remove the seeds and blanch them. They can then be used hot, cooled to use in salads like this one, or frozen to save for enjoying in cooler weather. In this salad, the seeds are toasted, then mixed with cucumber, lemon balm, and feta for a refreshing, summery salad that will have you looking at okra in a whole new light.​​

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Okra Seed Couscous Salad

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Makes 2 portions
  • 48 grams cucumber slices
  • 3 grams fresh lemon balm, plus additional 8 to 10 small leaves for garnish
  • 215 grams okra seed "couscous" (see link in headnotes for method)
  • 70 grams feta
  • 40 grams Georgia olive oil
  • 1 gram sumac
  • 3 grams salt
  • 1/2 gram finely-ground black pepper

Psst: The large emptied-out pods left behind needn't go to waste either! If you have a dehydrator, you can use Barlowe’s technique to dry and powder them, resulting in a cornstarch-like thickener.

Know of a great recipe hiding in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!

Tags: cooking with scraps, okra,