Tossed and Found: Coucous, orzo, quinoa offer international flavor, nontraditional salad base

photo Clockwise from upper left, Spinach Orzo Salad, Curried Quinoa and Chickpeas, Balela and Couscous Salad.

EDITOR'S NOTEStaff writer Clint Cooper has a drawer full of unused recipes in his kitchen. Once a month in Tossed & Found, he's pulling some out and giving them a try.

Set your palate for travel.

Today's Tossed and Found recipes will take us through North Africa, Italy, the Middle East and South America.

Before you throw up your hands and think any recipe involving food from those countries will tax your wallet and your taste buds, think again. We're only employing staples used in those parts of the world -- combined with fresh veggies and spices you probably have in your pantry -- to make hearty salads or side dishes.

Today, we'll be employing couscous, orzo and quinoa.

To my knowledge, I have never prepared a dish with any of these three, knew how they were served or had any idea how to cook them. But over the years, I've pulled these recipes because they called for the types of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices I like.

Couscous is a dish of semolina, or granules of durum wheat, cooked by steaming and fluffing. Though it can be served as a side dish, it is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it.

It is known as a staple throughout Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya, but it was voted the third-favorite dish of French people in 2011 -- and first in eastern France -- in a study for the magazine Vie Pratique Gourmand.

Orzo, which is sometimes called risoni, is a form of small-cut pasta that's shaped like a large grain of rice. Indeed, it resembles rice, and usually rice or quinoa can be substituted for it in dishes. The word itself means barley in Italian, and it is often used in Italy.

Orzo pasta is made with semolina flour, which is usually made from the denser parts of the wheat berry. Unlike traditional pasta, which becomes limp and floppy with cooking, orzo tends to keep its shape and offers more of a firm bite.

If you think orzo pasta sounds healthier than any other wheat-based pasta, think again. Food experts say it's no better or less, but they say whole-wheat versions might serve as a slight upgrade.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), which originated in the Andean region of South America, is a grainlike crop grown for its edible seeds. It's not a true cereal, grain or member of the true grass family. It's a pseudocereal, or chenopod, and more closely relates to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds.

It is frequently referred to as a superfood and has a higher protein content than brown rice, potatoes, barley and millet but less than wild rice and oats. It has been evaluated as a source of complete protein, is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. As a source of calcium, it is useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. It's also gluten-free and considered easy to digest.

The fourth recipe, balela, is considered a Middle Eastern dish and, while it employs some of the same vegetables, does not use one of the three staples.

Couscous Salad

1 box couscous with pine nuts or plain, prepared in microwave and cooled

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained

2 snack packages dried cranberries or raisins

1 (16-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

Feta cheese, crumbled (as much or as little as desired)

1 (6-ounce) container light orange yogurt

Mix together all ingredients. Put in refrigerator. Best if made early on the day it will eaten. Also good the next day.

• Cook's changes: Couscous with pint nuts was not available, so I bought a box of couscous with garlic flavoring but cooked it without the flavoring. I used dried cranberries instead of raisins.

• Result: This turned out like cottage cheese -- but a little more nutty in consistency -- with fruit. It wasn't bad, but a little more fruit or yogurt might even be better.

Spinach Orzo Salad

1 package (16-ounce) orzo pasta

1 package (6-ounce) fresh baby spinach, finely chopped

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

3/4 cup finely chopped red onion

3/4 cup reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cheese, onion and orzo. In a small bowl, combine the vinaigrette, basil and pepper. Pour over orzo; toss to coat. Chill until serving. Just before serving, stir in pine nuts.

-- Donna Bardocz, Howell, Mich., in Healthy Cooking

• Cook's changes: I used a raspberry-flavored vinaigrette because I had it. I bought white pepper -- quite expensive -- for the dish, but would use regular black pepper in a similar situation if I ran out.

• Result: This was wonderful and made a ton of salad. For my taste, I would like just a little bit more dressing. I loved the consistency of the orzo, though, and will try to use it elsewhere.

Curried Quinoa And Chickpeas

1-1/2 cups water

1/2 cup orange juice

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan, bring water and orange juice to a boil. Stir in a chickpeas, tomatoes, red pepper, quinoa, onion, raisins and curry. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 4.

-- Suzanne Banfield, Basking Ridge, N.J., in Taste of Home

• Cook's changes: None.

• Result: I had high hopes for this dish because it has so many things I like -- tomatoes, red pepper, red onion, raisins, curry -- but it's possible I spoiled it by not using a big enough saucepan. I had never used quinoa, and it took forever for the liquid to be absorbed. What emerged had the consistency and somewhat the look of cooked sweet potatoes, with the tomatoes and pepper overcooked and bland. The dish tasted OK but would probably be better in a bigger saucepan that would allow the peppers, tomatoes and onions to be more crisp and tender.


1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2/3 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

Coarsely ground black pepper (to taste)

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Best served at room temperature but keeps well in the refrigerator. Serves 4.

-- Relish

• Cook's changes: None.

• Result: This is almost as good as chip dips I've had with similar ingredients but would serve just as well as a side dish or on top of some meat dishes.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at

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