There is something about finger food. Just look at your lunch, where you probably had a sandwich, burrito or other bread-encased meal. When dinnertime comes, a calzone, pasty or even an eggroll might be on the menu, wrapped in dough.
It’s time to think outside the bread and look to a vegetable to hold your food in an easy to eat handful. I’m talking about lettuce.
It’s always a good time to to tuck light, cool salad meals into lettuce leaves, but especially on warm days. Instead of eating your food with a fork, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and dip the leaf in a dab of dressing. You’ve now effectively wrapped your dinner in the side salad.
The most important part of this process is finding the optimum lettuce leaf. Baby bibb, Boston, or small heads of butter lettuce have the right cupped shape. For the best presentation, you may even want to get a couple of heads, remove the larger outer leaves and store them for salads later in the week. Then you have the smaller leaves at the heart of the lettuce head to use for cups.
If you can’t find little cup-shaped lettuce, you can always go with a tender leaf lettuce, and make “lettuce wraps.” Just roll the leaf up like a cigar and proceed.
For this recipe, you will barely even turn on the stove, thanks to the convenience of couscous. It’s a form of tiny pasta, and all you have to do is pour boiling liquid over it and let it steep.
Celebrate the farmers market with this dish and use fresh rosemary, a handful of fresh basil, and some zucchini and tomatoes in your filling. Smoky cheese gives it some protein and heft, so that a few of these can serve as a meal. This also is a perfect dish to share at a picnic, where vegetarians can eat these as a main course and everyone else will love them as a side.
Once you’ve tried it, you may find yourself tucking all sorts of things into this no-carb wrapper, so perfect for summer noshing.
Herbed Couscous Salad With Smoked Mozzarella in Lettuce Cups With Creamy Basil Dressing
Note: This dish is a perfect summer appetizer to take to picnics, or a meal to sustain you when it’s too hot for anything heavy. For gluten-free diners, make this with gluten-free brown rice couscous, or just substitute quinoa for couscous and cook for 15 minutes on low. For vegans, substitute smoked tofu or tempeh for the cheese, and use nondairy substitutes for the dressing. From Robin Asbell.
• 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
• 3/4 c. water
• 1/2 c. whole-wheat couscous
• 1/2 tsp. salt, to taste
• 1 c. grape tomatoes, quartered and sliced
• 1 small zucchini (1 c.), diced
• 4 oz. smoked mozzarella, diced
• 1/2 c. fresh basil, sliced
• 1 tbsp. lemon juice
• 12 small bibb or butter lettuce leaves, separated, washed and dried
• Creamy Basil Dressing
In a 1-quart pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil briefly, and add the garlic and rosemary. Bring to a sizzle over medium heat. Cook for just a few seconds. Add 3/4 cup water to the pot and bring to a boil, then dump in the couscous and salt. Stir and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork; it should have absorbed all the water. Let cool completely.
Add the tomatoes, zucchini, mozzarella and basil to the couscous.
Stir together the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the lemon juice, and drizzle over the couscous, then toss to mix.
Carefully snap the base of each lettuce leaf off, then cup the leaf in your palm as you spoon about 1/4 cup of the couscous in each one. Place on a plate or platter. Serve with Creamy Basil Dressing to drizzle over the lettuce leaf.
Nutrition information per serving without dressing:
Calories 240 Fat 14 g Sodium 500 mg
Carbohydrates 19 g Saturated fat 5 g Total sugars 3 g
Protein 10 g Cholesterol 25 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 1 high-fat protein, 1 fat.
Creamy Basil Dressing
Makes 3/4 cup.
Note: From Robin Asbell.
• 1 garlic clove, peeled
• 1/4 c. fresh basil
• 2 oz. chèvre (goat cheese)
• 1/2 c. plain yogurt
• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. black pepper
For a mellower garlic flavor, drop the whole clove in boiling water for 2 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to remove it. For the classic garlic taste, use raw.
Drop the garlic in the food processor with the machine running, until minced. Open the lid and add the basil, then process again. Add the chèvre cheese and process, then scrape down and process again.
Add the yogurt, olive oil, salt and pepper, and process to mix well. Scrape the dressing into a medium bowl.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons:
Calories 60 Fat 5 g Sodium 160 mg
Carbohydrates 2 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 1 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 6 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 fat.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.