Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
Give it a BurL
This month Wine Tourist Magazine features the oldest wine-producing region in Australia, Hunter Valley. Situated about two hours north of Sydney in New South Wales, Hunter Valley has been producing commercial wines since the 1800s and today you can find more than 150 wineries, many with unique and welcoming “cellar doors,” or tasting rooms. As one might imagine, a great deal of thought and planning goes into the cellar door experience -- this being the place where the brand comes to life. Whether open to walk-ins or requiring appointments, the cellar door is where tastings are offered, sales are made and connections with the public are forged. So it’s no surprise that food is often considered a crucial part of the experience.
Australia is widely known for its dynamic wine and food scene. Barbecuing is essentially part of the national identity, but the southern continent is also well-known for fresh ingredients, fusion, farm-to-table, seafood, steak and game. It is, after all, a country influenced by many different cultures, full of bountiful resources and thousands of foodies, gourmet chefs and innovative new cuisines. In the February 2016 issue of Wine Tourist Magazine, we tackled a beef tenderloin on behalf of the land down under, so this time, we’re going the other direction with a couscous salad perfect as a side to grilled steaks or burgers, or as a lunch served with a side of greens. Like delicacies served in Australia, this dish will use fresh ingredients, garden-to-table if available, feature shrimp and be served with barbecue or simply a crisp, dry Australian white wine.
Lovedale Long Lunching at Home
As summer barbecues, block parties and picnics are in full swing for many of us, this recipe is perfect for this time of the year. It was inspired by the Lovedale Long Lunch, held each May in Hunter Valley. The Lovedale Long Lunch is a progressive lunch catering to wine and food lovers. Seven different wineries team up with some of the area’s leading chefs to offer varying food and wine selections to the guests as part of a progressive meal. It’s an opportunity for the wineries to showcase their best bottles, the chefs to highlight their innovation and the public to relish in the wares. While the chefs indeed want to “wow” the guests, the dishes need to be swift when catering to dozens of people at multiple entry times a day. The plates also need to feed a crowd, be light on the stomach (as multiple dishes are served throughout the experience), fresh and, of course, pair with the wine.
As for us home cooks and backyard grill masters, the same parameters often apply throughout the summer months. Whether we’re feeding two or 20, we want something that pulls together easily, is light and uses fresh, easily-sourced ingredients. So, let’s whip up this easy couscous salad, crack open a bottle of wine and join the party. Our salad can be prepared in advance or just before mealtime. It can be served hot or cold. And it begins like this…
Easy Salad Prep
In a large, deep skillet sauté onions and garlic while slightly toasting the couscous. Next add the liquid – water and dry white wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, turn off the heat and set the couscous aside. Next heat shrimp in a large skillet with a little oil, wine and red pepper flakes. While the shrimp cooks, whisk together your vinaigrette with lime, honey, olive oil and white wine vinegar. Make sure to taste as you go to ensure it’s to your liking (plus it’s the best part of being the cook!). Next, toss the couscous with some chopped veggies. Here we used cucumber and sweet red pepper, but feel free to toss in what’s available in your summer garden. Finally, add the shrimp and vinaigrette and you’re ready to go.
We loved this salad topped with a creamy avocado and served with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc, but a young Australian Semillon should also be pleasing. The meal was light and cooling with subtle hints of lime and acidity to liven up the couscous, and the avocado softens the heat from the crushed red pepper. It’s an easy-going and versatile summer salad that can be shared with family and friends over a garden lunch, or as a simple side dish to a backyard barbecue. Or perhaps you’ll be just as inspired by the Lovedale Long Lunch in Hunter Valley, Australia and serve this as a small plate for a progressive lunch or block party. Regardless of when or where you serve the salad, here’s to the outdoors, simplicity, summer leisure, food, wine and Australia. Cheers!
Shrimp & Couscous Salad
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup plus 3 T olive oil, divided
1 cup couscous
1 cup water
3/4 cup dry white wine, divided
1 cucumber, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1/4 pound shrimp, cooked, deveined & peeled
1 t red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 2 limes
1 to 1-1/2 T of honey
1 T white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, sliced thinly lengthwise
In a large, deep skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté for 2– 3 minutes before adding garlic. Cook the garlic an additional minute before adding the couscous. Toast the couscous for a minute then add a 1/2 cup of white wine and a 1/2 cup of water. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and remove from heat until liquid evaporates. Once liquid is evaporated, fluff with a fork.
In a separate skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Add red pepper flakes and shrimp. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add a 1/4 cup of white wine. Cook until wine is evaporated (approximately 5 minutes).
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, honey and white wine vinegar. Adjust ingredients to taste. If too much oil, add more acid (with vinegar or lime). If too bitter, add more honey, etc.
Add the couscous to a large bowl. Toss with the red pepper, cucumber and shrimp. Mix with dressing, salt and pepper to desired liking.
Serve with sliced avocado as a snack, lunch or side dish to main course.