Africa

Growing up in small town Ontario, Canada, I was always the little girl who dreamed of seeing the world. Always wondering what was beyond my backyard, beyond the town limits, beyond Ontario, beyond Canada. I knew early on that my life would take me to all sorts of places. How could it not with such a naturally-born burning desire to know more, see more, learn more about everything beyond my own backyard.

By age 14, I had chosen to attend a Catholic high school in London, Ontario, catching a 6am bus, traveling over an hour collecting students along the rural paths of Middlesex County, to be able to experience something new, something more, something bigger than my little town of Strathroy.

At 20, I crossed Canada in a Volkswagen Jetta, to be able to see my country, and to experience life in the Rocky Mountains of Banff, Alberta. By age 24, I was back across the country, a newly branded university graduate and settled in the metropolis of Toronto, living the fast life. I barely remember my twenties. They must have been good though.

I didn’t stop there. At 28, I packed up and moved to Europe, setting up shop in the little town of Arona, Italy, on breath-taking Lake Maggiore, in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. There I met my husband and we started our family. I was there for seven years, and thought I would spend the rest of my life there. But as life does, it threw us a curveball. A job opportunity for my husband would lead us to New York City and there we would rest, for now at least.

At this very moment, I am on a flight directed to South Africa. It almost feels like a dream. It could be the wine. Actually, it could be because I had envisioned a nightmarish flight with my two small children and here I am, sipping a delicious Cab Sav, cozied up in my blanket, writing this post, uninterrupted. Magic. I must be dreaming. Then again, I am only on hour 2 of 15 to Johannesburg; I should give it some time before I gloat.

But all jokes aside, it IS a dream to be able to bring our family halfway across the planet to have such a worldly experience. Where we live in New York City, it isn’t unheard of for families to make such adventurous voyages; on the contrary, it is actually quite common.

But I come from the real world, a middle class family from small town Ontario. It just isn’t that common. And for this, I am so very grateful, to be able to truly and wholeheartedly appreciate these blessings, to be able to see the world, to have the opportunity to meet such amazing and diverse people, and call them friends, and to live in an itty bitty New York City apartment, and LOVE it, because it’s ours, and because it’s in the BEST damn city in the world.

Now, having said all that, let me get to what I came here to say: I’M ON VACATION, PEOPLE!!!!!! Hahahahaha! So no recipes, no videos for 3 weeks! I’ll do my best to bring you the sure-to-be fantastic flavors I shall come across along my African adventure; that I do promise. But I am going to take a step back, take it all in, smell the roses, breathe the air and live this African dream.

Peace out!‚úĆūüŹľ

Mushroom Quesadilla & Succotash

When I was just thirteen years old, I had my first job. ¬†I was a dishwasher for Sunday brunch at this cute little restaurant in my hometown of Strathroy, Ontario, Canada. ¬†At the time, it was called Michelle’s, after its owner, but now you can find it as The Clock Tower Inn.

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The old post office in Strathroy, Ontario, Canada

It was a quaint little restaurant, built inside Strathroy’s old post office. ¬†Red brick, a clock tower and its small town charm made this little spot a cornerstone of the town’s culture.

My days as a Sunday brunch dishwasher didn’t last long, as chef and co-owner, Fred, decided it was high time I stepped into the kitchen, behind the line, and start doing some of the cooking myself. ¬†Perhaps this was one my past experiences that has influenced my passion for cooking today. ¬†He showed me the ropes, taught me some skills and before I knew it, I was there preparing brunch for the entire restaurant, my little 13 year old self.

It was there at Michelle’s where I had first heard of a quesadilla! ¬†It was love at first bite. ¬†Before I knew it, I was whipping up quesadillas left and right, and eating them too! ¬†The best part about quesadillas? ¬†Filling them with whatever you want! It’s a great way to use up leftover veggies or even chicken or beef. ¬†You can make loads of variations: ¬†vegetarian, seafood and of course, with chicken or beef. ¬†Mix and match with your choice vegetables, and you are set!

When I came across this recipe, I was stopped in my tracks.  Mushroom quesadilla??!! Yummmmmyyyyyy!!! This recipe is super easy and super quick to prepare. But beyond that, it is delicious!!!!  I made some variations of my own from the original recipe, so feel free to do the same!  Enjoy!

 

Mushroom Quesadilla & Succotash

Time:        30 Minutes

Servings:  4

Ingredients       IMG_8807

3 tbsp unsalted butter

12 oz sliced white mushrooms (5 to 6 cups)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups grated havarti cheese (about 6 ounces)

1 tsp dried oregano (use Mexican if you can; I couldn’t find it so I just used regular)

4 10″ flour tortillas

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

2 cups frozen corn (I used Fire-roasted and it looked (and tasted!) awesome)

2 cups frozen lima beans

2 shallots, chopped

 

Directions

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Step One
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon butter, the red onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Remove the vegetables to a plate; let cool. Wipe out the skillet.

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Step Two
Toss the cheese with the oregano in a large bowl. Sprinkle on one side of each tortilla and top with the mushroom mixture. Fold the tortillas in half to cover the filling.

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Step Three
Return the skillet to medium heat. Working in batches, cook the quesadillas, flipping once, until the cheese melts and the tortillas are browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.

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Step Four
Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the jalapeno and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the corn, lima beans, 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and stir in the shallots. 

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Step Five
Cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve with the succotash.

 

Click below for video instruction!

Recipe inspiration from The Food Network

Portuguese Azorian Shrimp

It’s been exactly 32 years since I stepped foot on my parents’ native land, the island of Sa√Ķ Miguel, in the group of Portuguese islands called the Azores. ¬†I think that may be just a tad too long.

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My brother Chris (at age 14) and I (at age 6) looking at the Azorian landscape

Yet somehow, the memories of visiting the islands live on vividly in my memory. Perhaps it’s from glancing at photos which were taken during that time, or it could be from stories which my parents continue to recount about their childhood there, or about how much it has changed since then. Nevertheless, I think a vacation to the homeland is in order. ¬†I want to see it with my own eyes, and through the eyes of my babes.

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Visiting with relatives in Sao Miguel, Azores

Located about 1000 miles from continental Portugal and a 1000 miles from northwest Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean, this archipelago of 9 volcanic islands boasts an enviable beauty.  The islands, having been inhabited at different times in history, are all distinct, with differences in culture, dialect, traditions and of course, cuisine.

I can always count on my mom having a recipe box full of recipes of her native land. And after having just spent some time with her up in Ontario, Canada, I got an itch to start preparing some myself. On our day of departure, mom prepared Azorian shrimp. I cannot express enough how ridiculously delicious this meal is. ¬†It’s SO good. And the best part, it’s super healthy, and it took less than 30 minutes to prepare.

I, myself, did not serve it over rice, however I would definitely recommend it! Or even with couscous! The juices which remain in the pot should NOT go to waste! So soak it up, with rice, with couscous or even just some fresh, crusty bread! Mmm! Mmm!

Lagoa do Fogo and green valley on San Miguel island

Portuguese Azorian Shrimp

Servings:  4-6

Prep & Cooking Time:  25 minutes

IngredientsIMG_8759

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp hot ground pepper paste (pimento)

1 tbsp red pepper paste

2 tbsp tomato paste

8oz beer (lager) or 3/4 cup white wine

3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1-2 cups water

1 lb Shrimp, deveined, peel on or off as you prefer (I left the tails on)

Directions

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Step One
Place saucepan on burner at medium high heat. Heat olive oil & onions.  Saute until translucent (about 4-5. minutes). 

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Step Two
Add garlic, pimento & tomato paste, stir until blended.  You may have to thin this mixture out a bit with some of the beer or wine.   Add 1/2 of the parsley.

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Step Three
Add shrimp, stir and saute for 2-3 minutes, coating the shrimp with the tomato/pimento mixture.

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Step Four
Add remaining beer or wine.  Add water, just enough to cover.  Cook on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the shells are easily peeled from the shrimp.

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Step Five
Use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp from the cooking liquid and serve with the remainder of the parsley sprinkled on top.

Hint:  Reserve the cooking liquid.  It can be used: a) to store leftover shrimp, if any, or to reheat; b) to cook white rice in; or c) to dip crusty fresh bread into. I used mine to make risotto the next day! It was amazing!

Click video below for visual instruction.

Broth Fondue

The first time I tried a fondue was way back in 2008.  After having spent my first 3 months in northern Italy, I decided it was time to venture a bit north, across the border, nestled in the foothills of the Alps, to the great land of Switzerland. I loved Switzerland!  It is just as one would expect it to be, like out of the pages of Heidi, magnificent snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys and quaint little gingerbread house-looking abodes.

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Taking in the moment north of the border in Switzerland

I had an excuse to go.  A Swiss friend I had met during my time living in Banff, Alberta, back in my early 20s, lived quite near  the Swiss-Italian border.  We got in contact and before I knew it, I was on a train heading towards Brig, Switzerland.

Christian was the quintessential Swiss man. ¬†He was an avid outdoorsman, going on daily hikes on and about the mountains. ¬†He was an excellent skier, once mistakenly being over-confident in my skiing abilities, bringing me off the well-beaten ski slope path into what must have been 3 feet of fresh powder, expecting me to miraculously make it down the hill, on skis!¬† It didn’t work out so well. I vaguely remember frustratingly stomping through that deep snow to get back down the mountain to civilization.

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He was enthusiastic about typical Swiss cuisine.  It was then and there, on that first trip to Switzerland, that Christian introduced me to the traditional Swiss fondue, which is actually prepared with cheese, not broth, into which you dip bread. Not exactly the most calorie-wise, but certainly effective when on cold, energy-consuming hikes through the Alps.

Over time, the fondue has evolved and nowadays, you can find all sorts of fondues: broth or oil fondue, often called bourgiuignonne, consisting of dipping thinly sliced meat or veggies in broth or oil.  This is quite an entertaining main dish.  You can also find chocolate fondue, dipping fresh fruit in the chocolate of your choice: dark, milk or even white chocolate.  Equally as good, equally (if not more) entertaining.

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Little James with my dippers (Yes, that is a 6-stitch wound over his left eye, having fought with a bench.  The bench won.  No children were injured in the preparation of this recipe Ha! Ha!)

Always on a quest to find the healthiest way of preparing a meal, without sacrificing too much of the goodness factor, I chose to prepare broth fondue. ¬†I went next door to my fave butcher at le District, here in Battery Park, and asked him to prepare for me some thinly-sliced sirloin. ¬†I would have also included some nice shrimp in this meal plan, but to my unpleasant surprise, the fishmonger was completely out of shrimp! Incroyable! Don’t let that stop you though; ¬†shrimp would definitely be a fantastic addition to this recipe.

Feel free to add or substitute any of the veggies or protein. There are loads of variations.  Listed below are some options:

PROTEIN  

Beef

Pork

Chicken

Tofu

Shrimp

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Thinly sliced sirloin beef

VEGETABLES

Potatoes (small cubes)

Carrots (thinly sliced)

Mushrooms163d7096-b06c-4d3b-b581-4e2c00f0576a

Cauliflower

Broccoli

Snow peas

Brussel sprouts

Zucchini

Cabbage

Leeks

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My choices for dipping sauces: Sriracha, Dijon mustard, creamy garlic aioli and soy sauce

DIPPING SAUCES

Aiolin dip

Mayonnaise

Hot pepper sauce

Horseradish sauce

Soy sauce

Blue (or Gorgonzola) cheese

Dijon mustard

Steak sauce

Curry dip

 

 

Broth Fondue

IngredientsIMG_0667

32 oz beef broth

1 head garlic sliced in half

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 bay leaf

1 tsp ground black pepper

Raw veggies and protein of your choice (see options above)

Directions

  1. In a fondue pot, combine all broth, garlic, water, soy sauce, bay leaf and black pepper.  Bring to a simmer.
  2. Dip dippers and leave in broth until cooked through.

 

Bon appetit!

 

 

Roasted Shellfish

My good friend Stefania, affectionately called Steffy, is a person who I met years ago upon my arrival in Italy.  Since those days back in 2008, our lives have travelled in different directions; Steffy, being nearly a decade younger than me, continued through her post-secondary education in Italy and myself, first continuing my career as a language school teacher on Lake Maggiore, then finding love, marriage, children and eventually moving to New York in 2015.

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Steffy and I cruising the Hudson River on an evening boat cruise

It’s funny how life throws you little pleasant surprises along the way, as nearly one year after my arrival in New York City, destiny would also carry Steffy and her fianc√© across the pond, right into the Big Apple as well.

While our friendship back in Italy should probably be better described as an acquaintance, in present time, Stefania and I have grown to be quite good friends, and perhaps even like sisters.

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Scoping out the irresistible views of Santorini

Having both moved from Italy to the big city, we had a common bond.  We both carried with us the traditions, the ideas and the lifestyle that we had grown accustomed to in Italy.  It almost was a natural progression, me taking Steffy under my wing here in New York, attempting to make her feel at home, as I had learned to do here in the city.   It can be a lonely city.  Most people, at least most people I know, come from somewhere else, leaving family and friends behind in another country.   This can be quite difficult for most.  But the one thing I have learned, is while family is irreplaceable, friends sure help in filling the void.

Ok, so what in the hell does this have to do with Roasted Shellfish!?

Nothing.

But Steffy is now on a Greek holiday, and her being there brought me back to the time I went with Massimo on vacation to Santorini.

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Massimo & I cruising the island by scooter

Santorini is a magical place. The picturesque landscape, the colorful architecture, the vibrant people and of course, the food.  You can find restaurants all along the coast, all serving fresh fish and seafood, caught that very morning.  We would sit there on their little outdoor terraces, looking out at the turquoise sea, for hours.  Thinking about those fresh scallops, tasty shrimp and crab that we used to savor there had me craving a big platter of seafood right here in my New York City apartment.  While nothing will beat freshly caught from the ocean, getting fresh seafood from our local fishmonger at le District in Brookfield Place next door, is certainly the next best thing.

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Roasted Shellfish

Time: 30 minutes

Yields: 4 Servings

INGREDIENTSIMG_8513

8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 cup minced shallots

2 tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon peel

2 large lobster tails, thawed, cut lengthwise in half

8 uncooked jumbo shrimp (about 12 oz), peeled, deveined, butterflied

8 large sea scallops

2 lbs cooked large Alaska King crab legs, cut lengthwise in half

3 tbsp waterIMG_8500 2

lemon slices or wedges

Fresh Italian parsley sprigs

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 450¬įF.
  2. Brush 2 large roasting pans with 1 tablespoon olive oil each.
  3. Mix shallots, minced parsley, and lemon peel in small bowl.
  4. Arrange lobster tails, cut side up, in 1 roasting pan; brush with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then 2 tablespoons shallot mixture. Roast until just opaque in center, about 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, combine shrimp, scallops, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons shallot mixture in medium bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat. Arrange in single layer in second prepared roasting pan. Roast alongside lobster until shrimp and scallops are just opaque in center, about 5 minutes for shrimp and 7 minutes for scallops.
  6. Transfer lobster to large platter; cover with foil.
  7. Arrange crab legs in lobster roasting pan; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with remaining shallot mixture, then drizzle with 3 tablespoons water. Roast just until heated through, about 5 minutes.
  8. Arrange shrimp, scallops, and crab legs on platter with lobster. Pour any pan drippings over shellfish. Garnish with lemon slices or wedges and parsley sprigs.

 

Note: You can serve with Lemongrass and Cilantro Sauce; Saffron Mayonnaise; and Roasted Grape Tomato, Orange, and Basil Relish.

 

Please click below for video instruction!!

 

A 4th of July in Good Company

Yesterday, we endulged our senses and spent a lovely Fourth of July in excellent company, eating and drinking merrily as we chatted and played with our wee ones. Accompanied by their dear friends who have been visiting from England, Photo Jul 04, 8 14 49 PMwe passed the holiday with the Heaths, our friends here in New York, eating lunch, visiting a carnival and celebrating this ever so patriotic day.  The evening continued at their place, watching the fireworks display.  It was beyond amazing.

Photo Jul 04, 8 19 51 PMOur hostess with the mostest, Fiona, not only charmed us with her contagious laugh and bubbly persona, but she also graciously welcomed us into her home, making us feel like family, treating us to some culinary treats, all in theme of course.  We listened to music, watched the fireworks, sipped cocktails and laughed the night away.  It was perfect.

About those treats… Mmm! Mmm! ¬†Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the most delightful of cocktails! ¬†With gin and Earl Grey tea as its principal ingredients, it was certainly more British than American, I’d say. With freshly squeezed lemon juice, tonic water and Elderflower Cordial, it made for one smooth and delicious cocktail, and I’m not even a gin fan!

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Smoked salmon & dill blinis.  Simply delightful! 

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Salmon skewers with roasted vegetables

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Shrimp cocktail (the extra spicy seafood sauce with exceptional!)

Along with all these wonderful dishes, there was also a refreshing goats cheese & pomegranate salad, bbq pulled pork sliders, mini hamburgers, jalape√Īo poppers and to top it off, 4th of July cupcakes! ¬†To say it was a feast is an understatement. ¬†Drinks flowed and good times were had.

But take away the good food, the delicious drinks,¬†the spectacular view and the evocative ambiance, you are simply left with six people, each one from another place, each one with a story, each one there to celebrate the independence of a country that didn’t belong to any one of us, but it was a celebration nonetheless. ¬†As one of the chaps¬†mentioned earlier in the day, “we also celebrated July the 3rd!” ¬†

And why shouldn’t we? ¬†May every day be a day of celebration! May every day be passed with good food, good times and most of all, good friends.

Garlic Shrimp & Herbed Couscous Salad

Happy July the 4th, y’all! (Do I sound American? hahahaha!) We’re just entering our 6th day of a New York heat wave, and with that comes activities and meals which don’t just compliment the outrageous weather but actually serve as coping mechanisms. ¬†Multiple trips to the neighborhood splash pad, cool, breathable clothing and low-maintenance, little heat required recipes become the daily norm. ¬†It almost makes me excited for the Fall. ¬†Almost.

Today, we are fortunate to spend this excitement-filled holiday with a group of new and wonderful friends. ¬†Ironically, none of us are American. ¬†Actually, that’s a lie; itty bitty 1-year-old James was born right here in New York City, making him the only honorary American of our fine crew today. ¬†The rest of our group include myself, a Canadian, 2 Italians and 5 Brits and a Scot! ¬†Fine folk indeed! ¬†You can bet we’ll be the liveliest, most patriotic, most enthusiastic people in the neighborhood!

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Chloe & I pre-Independence Day festivities

(Side note: A mini July the 4th feature to come post-party tonight!)

Today, I’m offering you a FANTASTIC summer recipe that I found on southernliving.com! Garlic Shrimp & Herbed Couscous Salad!!! For all you garlic lovers, this is for you! It is super easy and quick; I literally prepared it in LESS THAN 30 minutes! I swear! ¬†Not only will it impress as a decorative and delicious summer main, but you can even prepare it early, pack it up and bring it to a picnic, or just out on the lawn. ¬†I refrigerated my leftovers and enjoyed them the next day as a chilled couscous salad! It was phenomenal. And it saved some very precious time not having to prepare a whole new meal! Mom win!

Feel free to make substitutions.  You can use quinoa or bulgar instead of the couscous!  And you can even try a bell pepper instead of the cucumber! Easy, delicious and versatile. My kind of recipe.  Enjoy!

 

Garlic Shrimp & Herbed Couscous Salad

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INGREDIENTS

1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous

1/4 cup olive oil, divided 1 pound peeled and deveined raw small shrimp

1 tbsp minced garlic

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Fresh oregano, parsley & thyme

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

1 tsp lemon zest

2 1/2 tbsp fresh juice (from 1 lemon), divided

2 tsp chopped fresh oregano

2 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 cup chopped English cucumber

2 oz crumbled feta cheese

1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Lemon wedges

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DIRECTIONS

Step 1

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add couscous. Boil, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place couscous in a large bowl.

Step 2

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt; cook until shrimp are opaque, about 1 more minute. Remove from heat, and stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of the lemon juice, tossing to coat. Cool 5 minutes.

Step 3

Meanwhile, whisk together oregano, thyme, lemon zest, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle over couscous. Add cucumber and feta, and toss to combine. Top with shrimp and parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

Chef’s Notes

Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous) really soaks up the tangy dressing, but you can also substitute a cooked, cooled whole grain like quinoa or bulgur.

 

 

Click below for video instruction!!!

 

* Recipe credit to southernliving.com