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Published April 12, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thinking outside the carton: Ham and Eggs Couscous Salad

It happens every year. Easter arrives just as my craving for hard-cooked eggs comes to a peak. Just before Easter, I boil a bunch of eggs. Sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren often dip them into colored water and decorate the eggs with crayons and stickers.

By: Sue Doeden, Park Rapids Enterprise

It happens every year. Easter arrives just as my craving for hard-cooked eggs comes to a peak. Just before Easter, I boil a bunch of eggs. Sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren often dip them into colored water and decorate the eggs with crayons and stickers. For most of them, the joy comes from the decorating, not from the eating of those multicolored eggs.

The day after Easter there is always a large bowl full of hard-cooked eggs in my refrigerator. I peel and chop them, preparing creamy egg salad to put on sandwiches and saving some to sprinkle into a bowl of fresh greens for a salad. By the time the bowl in the refrigerator is emptied of the last egg, my craving for hard-cooked eggs is satisfied for quite a long time.

This year I’ve decided to think out of the egg carton and be a bit creative with ways I eat the last of the Easter eggs. I was inspired by some of the foods I gobbled up while on a recent trip to Colorado. Inventive chefs were thinking outside the box, mixing and matching foods and serving them in ways I’d never seen. On a visit to a small-plates restaurant, I couldn’t pass up the reconstructed grilled cheese sandwich: a thick slice of grilled bread sandwiched between warm Greek sheep’s milk cheese with a wrapping of prosciutto around the outside.

Ham and Eggs Couscous Salad is an updated, out-of-the-egg-carton kind of meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s my reconstruction of the traditional ham and eggs. And, it’s a great way to use some of the leftover ham you may have joining the hard-boiled eggs in your refrigerator.

One of the beautiful things about salad is that you can add any kinds of vegetables and seasonings you prefer. I’ve kept this one simple with green onions, sweet grape tomatoes and parsley. These ingredients are tossed into a base of couscous basking in honey-mustard vinaigrette. Chunks of baked ham join the delicious mix of ingredients.

Each serving of Ham and Eggs Couscous Salad holds a peeled hard-boiled egg, standing straight with its bright yellow yolk shining from the top.

Use the tiny, hard, roughly shaped variety of couscous, not the larger round and pea-sized Israeli couscous, sometimes referred to as pearl couscous. In this recipe, I combine the uncooked couscous with olive oil and let it rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before pouring boiling water over it. This procedure allows the tiny pieces of couscous to expand a little, resulting in a fluffier final product. The couscous, made of semolina flour, does not need to cook in boiling water. As it sits in its bath of hot water, it absorbs the liquid, making it puffy and light.

There are so many different ways to hard cook eggs. The way that works best for me is to place uncooked eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Add cold water to the pot, being sure the eggs are completely immersed in a generous amount of water. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Once it begins to boil, remove the pot from the heat and put the cover on the pot. Allow the covered pot of eggs to sit for 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and put them in a bowl of ice water. When cool enough to handle, you can peel the eggs or store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

This is a perfect salad for plating up and serving to hungry diners around your table. Using a fork, each person can cut the egg on center stage and mix it into the ham and couscous mixture. Ham and eggs, reconstructed.

Ham and Eggs Couscous Salad
1 pound (about 2-1/2 cups) uncooked couscous
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
4 cups (1 quart) boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 pound of ham (or more), cut into small cubes
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
1 (10-ounce) container of grape tomatoes, each cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped finely

Salt and pepper
6 to 8 hard-cooked eggs

Pour uncooked couscous into a medium-sized bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil and stir with a fork so all of the couscous is coated with the oil. Cover the bowl and place the couscous in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and as long as overnight.

Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Remove couscous from the refrigerator and add the boiling water. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 15 minutes. All of the liquid will be absorbed by the couscous.

While the couscous is resting in the hot water, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together the lemon juice, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and honey. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil and whisk until blended. Set aside.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over the couscous and gently work it through with a fork. Add ham, green onions, tomatoes and parsley and toss. Taste the salad and season with salt and pepper. Add more vinaigrette if needed.

Peel the eggs. Slice a little of the narrower end off of each egg, providing a flat side so that the egg can stand up on a plate. Slice just enough from the other end to allow the yolk to show. Set an egg on each plate, with the yolk-side up. Surround each egg with the Ham and Egg Couscous Salad. Put extra vinaigrette in a small pitcher and offer it at the table for anyone who cares to add more to the plated salad. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Remember, you can use as much of the meat and vegetables and parsley as you wish.

--Ham and Egg Couscous Salad can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The salad can be served chilled or at room temperature.

--If you’re out of hard-cooked eggs before the salad runs out, try topping a bowl of the salad with poached or scrambled eggs for breakfast.

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