Toasted Couscous Salad with Fennel & Kumquats


Can we talk about the tyranny of 5-ingredient recipes? I mean, what line of bullshit have we swallowed that makes us think that limiting a recipe to just five ingredients will make our lives better, simpler, or “down right irresistible?” Don’t get me wrong: we all know that the essence of good cooking is restraint. But to arbitrarily limit ourselves to only five ingredients (not counting salt, pepper, water, a splash of olive oil, a dash of lemon, a…..) out of some bizarre belief that the cooking will be easier, faster, better if we simply lop a few ingredients off the list: it’s pathological.

Now, there are some perfectly lovely recipes with basically five ingredients. But if a recipes touts itself as “only 5 ingredients!!!” (at least three exclamation points is mandatory: what we sacrifice in diversity and flavor, we make up for in exclamatory punctuation) then I assume that limiting the ingredient list to five ingredients, not appropriately balancing the dish for ideal flavor, was the main priority of the recipe. Much like the way that I become immediately disinterested in a recipe that trumpets its “raw, vegan, and gluten-free!” qualities: because I assume that those are the critical parts of the recipe – adhering to a specific dietary regimen – rather than maximizing taste.

This is why you’ll rarely hear me going on about how healthy a dish is; because, while this salad is extremely good for you (whole grains, vegetables, ferments, citrus, fiber, color, blah, blah, blah), there is this impression out there that unhealthy = delicious, a belief that unfortunately works hand-in-hand with the more pernicious idea that healthy = not delicious. Which is about as bullshit as thinking that once you drop all those pesky 7- and 8- and (gasp!) 10-ingredient recipes from your repertoire, your cooking will magically become ordered, easy, and down right irresistible.

Just like there are lovely five-ingredient recipes out there, there are plenty of wonderful and delicious recipes that are also good for you. This salad, with its – count ’em – 13 ingredients!!!, is one of them. So, thumb your nose at the pernicious 5-ingredient cute & fuzzy bunnies and give this one a go.

couscous-fennel-kumquat-saladToasted Couscous Salad with Fennel & Kumquats


  • 1 cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
  • ½ tsp fennel seed
  • 2 dried red chiles, chopped (reserve seeds)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 3 stalks celery, with leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 stalks fennel fronds, thinly sliced
  • about 2 cups chopped red cabbage
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • about 20 preserved kumquat halves, unrinsed
  • splash of olive oil
  • juice of 1 small lemon (I used Meyer)
  • freshly ground black pepper


  1. To a medium skillet add the couscous, fennel seed and chiles. Toast over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, until the couscous turns golden and is very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add water and salt; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until water is nearly absorbed and couscous is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse immediately in cold water to stop cooking. Allow to strain while you prep the remaining ingredients.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the celery, fennel, cabbage, onion and kumquats. Toss to mix. Shake the couscous to remove all excess water and add to the bowl. Add a generous splash of olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss, then taste and adjust seasonings, adding freshly ground black pepper, salt or chile pepper seeds as necessary. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4 – 6.


  1. You could substitute fresh kumquats for the preserved, although you might want to use fewer so they don’t overwhelm the dish. You could even toss them into the couscous in the last minute or two of cooking time to wilt slightly and infuse the grains with citrus flavor.
  2. The couscous picks up a lot of heat from the chiles. I used three Arbol chiles, and the couscous is pretty spicy. Adjust accordingly.


Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. The couscous will get pinker and pinker, stained by the red cabbage, as time goes on.




  1. It is truly such a big effort to add a few different herbs and spices and gasp!! go over the magical 5. Hooray to you for calling out the inherent silliness in that approach. Looks gorgeous and I am sure will taste wonderful.

  2. I really appreciate your perspective. I do think we’ve all gone a little over-the-bend with labeling foods healthy or unhealthy or dissecting every ingredient with such a critical eye. This multi-ingredient salad sounds spectacular. Thank you!

  3. Wow. I am currently obsessed with your blog. Reading you is so much fun, and I agree with every thing you say! Plus, I am in my “I love kumquats” period of the year, so this looks like something I might try! Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I am not familiar with 5-ingredient recipes, but I understand your frustration. I clicked your link (Google search) and went to the first site and then to the first vegetarian recipe. It is a pizza with refrigerated dough (which I use often), 2 cheeses, garlic and tomatoes. Not only does it look boring; if we focus on “easy” recipes then we lose our creativity, go to the market for the 5 things we need and don’t explore our farmer’s markets or gardening.

    Oh, and thanks for your thoughts on labels. It is so frustrating to live through the diet fads in our country (fat free, carb-free , Atkins were the ones of our childhood) and see that we are just as unhealthy after the fad. I tag foods as vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan (on rare occasions that I cook that way) but I am leery since I don’t follow any dietary restrictions.

    And your salad looks delicious! I am so glad you didn’t limit yourself!

  5. EL

    How funny! I just had to laugh! It somehow makes me think of ginzu knife commercials (but wait for just $5.00 more, you could have one ingredient less, or get it without gluten). I normally ignore all that and read (yes, read) the recipe ahead of time. If it doesn’t fall together in my head (number of ingredients/healthiness not withstanding), I simply give it a pass. But maybe we should do two or three ingredient recipes (salad dressing excluded), such as romaine lettuce, radicchio and beets. . . (she said, tongue in cheek).

  6. Anduin

    I made this fabulous recipe today for a potluck to rave reviews. I had almost all of the ingredients on hand except I substituted farro for the couscous, didn’t have fennel, and substituted preserved kumquats with fresh clementines and grapefruit. I loved the aroma and depth of flavor from toasting the farro with the fennel seeds and the dried chiles. This full flavor balanced nicely with the tart, bitterness of the grapefruit while the varied textures played beautifully against each other: sweet, juicy citrus, crunchy cabbage, chewy farro, crisp, watery celery and onion. Given all your talk about five-ingredient dishes, I was surprised to find the dish very simple to prepare. “That’s it?”, I wondered as I triple-checked to make sure I had used all the ingredients available to me and rummaging through my refrigerator to see if there was anything else I could use. Fortunately there wasn’t, because this dish needed nothing more (although a glass of full-bodied chardonnay was a delightful accompaniment). I’m just curious, were you snooping in my refrigerator, or is this just the happy outcome of eating with the seasons?

    • You’ve proved my point, Anduin. This is, at heart a simple grain salad with a bit of spice, citrus and whatever crunchy veg happens to be in the fridge. Easy-peasy whether it ends up being 5 ingredients or 15. I’m glad you made it your own!

  7. Pingback: Toasted Couscous Salad with Wilted Swiss Chard & Fennel | One Domestic Goddess

  8. I made this salad for a dinner with veggies I had on hand and it was delicious! I love the flavor that toasting the couscous with the dried fennel and peppers adds. I loved it so much that I had to post it on my blog! Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. made this for dinner tonight, it was delicious and a perfect wholesome winter dish! going through and marking some of your other recipes now! since you’re from the NY area, maybe check out my blog, Joodie Foodie, for some great restaurant recs in the city!

  10. Pingback: Seasonal Recipes (Autumn) ~ Red Cabbage | Mama's Style

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: