Summer solstice – time to enjoy the glorious evening daylight, the early summer climate, lush gardens and early seasonal produce. Could there be a better time for an outdoor party? My clever friends thought not.
As usual, I’ve been asked to enjoy all the fun in exchange for a simple menu and doling out assignments. Who could resist that offer??
Given our early summer timing, I focused my menu on local seasonal produce — Michigan asparagus, at the end of its seasonal glory, and local strawberries, just hitting the farm-stands. While there are many reasons to use local produce – environmental, economic, and freshness – the best reason is the fabulous taste! Local Michigan asparagus with the chubby, crisp stems and firm blue/green tips is in a different league from other versions of this unique stalk. Local strawberries surprise us not only with a juicy and crisp texture, but a blood-red color throughout – none of that white fibrous interior found in the off-season variation. So asparagus and strawberries will be the menu anchors.
The remainder of the menu works around the party format – casual, easy, outdoor entertaining. This requires “unfussy” food, do-ahead preparations, and uncomplicated recipes — without sacrificing color and taste at the table. To avoid setting up steamers/warming platters on an outdoor buffet, most of the food is served cold or room temperature. Only the main course is heated. The Israeli Couscous is heated indoors before serving, and the Beer and Mustard Marinated Grilled Chicken is served hot off the grill.
Easy Summer Party Menu
Red and Peach/White Sangrias
Fresh Vegetables with Blue Cheese Dressing
White Bean, Garlic and Tomato Bruschetta
Beef Tenderloin Mini-sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce
Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus
Beer and Mustard-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Seasonal Strawberries, Shortcake and Whipped Cream
Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 8
Israeli (or Jerusalem) couscous consists of small balls of pasta. The balls are larger than the tiny grains of semolina which make up traditional North African couscous. However, these two types of couscous can be used interchangeably in many dishes. The benefits of Israeli couscous are that the grains can be toasted for more flavor and, when cooked properly, the grains have a lovely texture that does not clump and blends nicely with other chopped ingredients.
24 spears asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup peppers, sweet red, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups couscous, Israeli, about 16 oz
2 cinnamon sticks
3 3/4 cups stock, chicken
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/2 cup parsley, fresh, minced
1. Wash and trim ends of asparagus. Angle cut spears into thirds. Bring a pot of lightly salted water (just enough to cover spears) to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender. Drain and shock in cold water to stop cooking. Toss with a bit of olive oil (and black pepper if desired). Set aside.
2. Melt 3 T butter in a heavy large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and cook until just softened. Remove vegetables from pan.
3. Melt the additional 3 T butter in the same pan. Add couscous and cinnamon sticks and stir over medium heat, stirring constantly and browning couscous. Couscous will brown unevenly, but at least some of the grains should be medium to dark brown, which will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your pan.
As soon as couscous browns, add broth, salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Couscous should be firm but tender.
4. If serving couscous immediately, remove from pan, discard cinnamon sticks, add sautéed vegetables and chopped parsley. Top with asparagus (reheat asparagus first on stove top or microwave if desired) and serve.
5. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS: To make ahead, cook through step 2. Spread couscous on wide sheet pan to cool. When cool, mix in sautéed onions/peppers/parsley and place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, transfer to an oven-proof serving dish. Cover tightly and reheat in 350 degree oven for service. Alternatively, reheat in a microwave.
Top with asparagus spears and serve.
What a beautiful recipe and presentation…and I love the thought of throwing in some cinnamon stick for flavor:) Parsley just works so well with Israeli couscous! Great must-try recipe!
Thanks Peri. Love to know what you think if you try it…
I like you addition of asparagus to the couscous…perfect for spring and adds nice color.
Thanks Karen. I’ll bet the summer solstice season is particularly beautiful in your neighborhood 🙂
I ADORE Israeli cous cous…
Well, come on by for dinner – party is this Saturday!
I wish! 🙂
The tables of Michigan asparagus in this area’s farmers markets have been replaced by tables of strawberries. Nature has a way of evening things out for us. You’ve put together a great menu and this couscous salad looks and sounds fantastic. I’d not seen couscous toasted before and am eager to give it a try. Thanks for the tip.
Thanks John. Locally, you can still get asparagus, but this is probably the last week. 😦 Yet, the strawberries have been great this year. And blueberries yet to come!!
Thanks Jeannee, just in time. Our party is on Friday & I will try the cous cous for a crowd, making ahead. Like the idea of toasting first and the cinnamon addition, should work well with th pistachio chicken I’m trying. Wish me luck. Happy summer!
Yum. Pistachio Chicken sounds great. E-mail me the recipe and I’ll try it and blog it 🙂
You don’t need luck for your party. It will be fabulous. Call me if you have questions….
What a fresh and delicious looking dish! I really enjoy Israeli Cous Cous and have yet to make it. Thank you for the inspiration. I am so pleased to have stumbled upon your blog this morning.
Thanks much! And I’m inspired by your photos….
Wow, this is such a beautiful post Jeannee!! Gorgeous photos, beautiful Summery flavours… everything that you need for an amazing party! I’ve never cooked Israeli couscous myself. I do like the different texture of it though, so I might have to track some down and make this gorgeous salad. Your entire menu sounds amazing… I can’t wait to read the other half of this post. Hope that you have a beautiful party today. Wish I could join you (I would bring cake!) xx
Do join us! I’d love to meet you, and we can provide VERY warm weather. We’re now more than 20 people, so we could use that cake.
Let me know what you think of the Israeli couscous. I’m hooked on it. As an everyday side, I love the fact that it refrigerates and reheats better than rice does.
I’ll definitely update you on the Israeli couscous. Can’t wait to try it, and glad to know that it reheats well!
Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies so I know I’ll love this dish. Looks delicious!
Thanks Anne. It is sad that the season is over. I always think I’ll be tired of it by the end of the season, but I never am. Although, I think there will still be some good asparagus coming from other locations for a while…
Absolutely nothing disagreeable about this recipe for my gluttonous heart, especially because I adore Israeli couscous. However, I must say that I was left wanting for the beer and mustard grilled chicken. Will that recipe be appearing any time soon?? 🙂
…thanks for the visit to my site and I’ll be sure to place you in my reader. Cheers!
Yes. Part 2 and grilled chicken will be out soon. Would hate to leave you wanting….
A lovely post for midsummer. Enjoyed your food, even if the local produce would be a little bit different around here..
Ah, yes. I’m sure your growing season is short. What does grow there in the summer?
Mmm, couscous is one of my favorites. Love the way you presented this dish! And I’m also weak for anything that combines cinnamon and parsley.. looks delicious! 🙂
Thank you Yvonne. I’m a huge fan of cinnamon as well – savory and sweet dishes.
Local produce really does taste better. Plus all the other goodies that come along with it! This dish is gorgeous. You picked and cooked well!
Thanks Mary Frances. Yes, we’re really enjoying local produce now – height of the season. Too bad it is so short….
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