Amazing Couscous Salad with an Even Better Story

Post by Christine Frazier.

So, you’ve made the choice to eat less meat.  You’ve done the research, examined the facts, and decided you’re ready to take your health into your own hands.

Hooray, right?

couscous image 300x225Today’s recipe is inspired by the surprises I’ve had since making that decision myself.  Anytime you start shifting the pieces of your life around with a goal of positive change, there’s bound to be some negative resistance.

Of course, I already knew this from quitting smoking.  As much as my friends wanted to be supportive, most were hoping I wouldn’t make it.  If I failed, it meant that addiction was too hard to get over, that willpower wasn’t enough, and in short, that they didn’t have to try.

My refusal to light-up even at parties or social settings was taken as an insult by my pals, as if my quitting was a direct critique on their lifestyle.

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever ordered a meatless dish when you’re out to eat with your friends, you probably know the feeling.

But really, at the health club?

While I expect this reaction occasionally from my family and friends, I never expected it at the gym.  I mean, a health club; a club of health.  As I was checking in at the front desk, I had a one-minute conversation that bugged me for an entire week.

The girl swiped my membership card, looked up at my No Meat Athlete top, and said “Hey, that’s a really cool shirt.”  Another lady behind the desk looked up, smiled, and said “Yeah, that’s cute!”

A third woman, also a staff member, walked over, smiled and casually chimed in:

That is a cute a shirt. But you do need meat, you know.

There were a lot of things I wanted to do right then. I wanted to ask her why the chick in the Cheerleading is life: the rest is just details shirt got to check-in without any life advice.  I wanted to whip out my resistance training journal and show her my improvements over the weeks since I joined her gym.  I wanted to tell her how I finally ran a 5k within a year of smoking a pack a day.  I wanted to tell her all about my brother, from starting this site to qualifying for Boston to running a 50 miler.

And mainly I wanted to tell her to mind her own ****ing business.

Instead, I chuckled, thanked the ladies, and just walked away.  I figured they’d see me all sweaty in an hour when I leave, and hopefully would note that I didn’t keel over from my workout, and no ambulance had to be called to pump ground beef into my veins to revive me.

Maybe enough workouts, and enough people proudly wearing the shirts…but really who knows, I think that lady already made her mind up awhile ago.

A pleasant surprise in the land of cheesesteaks

It’s so easy to get hung up on little negative exchanges like this one, which makes it even more valuable to recognize the positive surprises that come around.  Like one extra hot afternoon in Philadelphia, when I was tired and starving from exploring the city.  After passing cheesesteak joint after cheesesteak joint, I finally swung into a corner deli, hoping at best to get a side of mac and cheese or mashed potatoes.

To my amazement, the entire food case was stocked top to bottom with dream-vegetarian food.  Not half-hearted attempts with soy dogs and Boca burgers—no, I’m talking about avocado and sprout sandwiches, orange-beet salads, Italian bread salad, tabouleh, Morroccan couscous salad, quinoa pilafs, and Asian veggie wraps.

I stood, frozen with joy and overloaded with options.  The best part was, this deli wasn’t some weird crunchy health market; it was for everybody, and boy was it busy!  I finally left with a curried Isreali couscous salad, and it truly made my day.

The salad was so yummy, I had to make my own version to enjoy whenever I wanted (and without the $8.99/lb  price tag).  The recipe is below.

I know you’ll love this one.  For me this re-creation of that couscous salad is a good reminder that when you take control of your health, there really is a pleasant surprise around every corner.  It might be a faster race time, a couple pounds shed, a friend you’ve inspired, or perhaps just a really yummy deli.

Couscous Surprise Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (I like Marrakesh Express Couscous Grande)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups (1/2 lb)  frozen shelled edamame
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 a large red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat.  Add the couscous and stir to coat.  Toast for a few minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the couscous is soft and most of the water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, steam the frozen edamame by microwaving in a bowl wrapped with plastic wrap for 2-4 minutes.  Be careful, the plastic wrap and steam will be hot.

In a large salad bowl, stir together the couscous, steamed edamame, red pepper, cilantro, onion, apricots, cranberries, curry powder, salt, and lemon juice.  Let chill for an hour to let the flavors combine.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this reminder! It is so hard to be patient and courteous, especially when just starting out and struggling myself!

  2. Awesome post. I can picture the whole scene at the gym. People have such a strong reaction to vegetarianism. They can be supportive or mean but usually,they are curious if you are on the right path but can’t imagine making a big life change like not enjoying a big hamburger. Instead of exploring that, it is so much easier to switch the “I wonder if vegetarianism is a healthier more compassionate way of life” to “you do need meat you know”. Thanks for the smile and the recipe!

  3. This post is SO awesome & fitting to my life right now. I’m constantly growing & making improvements to my life, and after I stopped eating meat, my family was flabbergasted. They told me it’d make me develop disabilities, illnesses… my brother-in-law called me simply, “stupid”, and when I mentioned I was making a move towards veganism, he said “She’s going towards an even deeper level of stupid.”

    Thank you for this post. :)

    I really want a No Meat Athlete shirt… soon! Before I run a 10k AIDS run, so I can show the world proudly :D

  4. Wow – I’m impressed! You showed WAY more resistance than I could have ever pulled together!

    It’s so hard being vegetarian. Not because it’s hard to be a vegetarian, but it’s hard to see everybody else treating their bodies like crap without knowing that they’re treating their bodies like crap!

    I want to go out and buy EVERYBODY a copy of “The China Study” and tell EVERYBODY how I’ve dropped 8 lbs in 2 months since being vegetarian without ANY other change except for taking meat out of my diet (don’t worry, I’m starting to make more changes now, I promise)… but very few are willing to listen.

    It’s such a hard process. But you managed the situation perfectly. Laugh it off… but keep wearing that t-shirt. Eventually they’ll be interested enough to ask some real questions. And eventually you’ll get the opportunity to tell them what it’s all about.

    Thanks for the recipe! I’m excited to make it for my wife. I’ve told her I’ll make dinner one night a week :)

  5. Good response to an ignorant person. She was probably trying to start an argument. It wouldn’t have been worth the waste of breath.

  6. this is great.

    i have to tell this story.

    recently i posted a pic of me wearing my NMA shirt on my facebook profile. i took some hits because of it, but a few friends wanted to know where i got it.

    ff a couple weeks later. i was CRAVING sausage for some reason so that morning i had a piece of sausage with my eggs and rightfully posted same that i had ‘surrendered’ to my bodys craving. at which point a ‘friend’ proceeded to all of a sudden chime in not only on my post but then on other friends posts that had NOTHNG to do with me…and that i should give my shirt now to my ‘favorite homeless person’ (another one of my passions is feeding.sheltering the hungry)…and i unfriended him. he even went so far to say that he found it hysterical that a NMA shirt wearer ate meat. and again just blasting me.

    when i confronted him about it and made sure he was wrong for ‘suggesting’ to others that i had been ‘caught’ eating meat… um what? anyway, i know this is a looooong comment…but im still upset about it…

    am i bad for giving in to my bodys cravings sometimes????? and does that mean i am not worthy to wear the shirt????

    • Hey Junie,
      I think there is a big difference in both health and environmental effects in say, eating sausage once a month, compared to eating it everyday with breakfast, then having a turkey sandwich for lunch, and then pork tenderloin for dinner.

      I started off this post by saying I made the decision to eat less meat. There are vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, pescetarians and everything in between— and they all have their own reasons for doing so, whether compelled by race times, general health, finances, environmental concerns, or just straight up compassion.

      I personally believe that the average American diet includes way too much meat, and that the fact that there is a demand for meat to be so cheap and convenient has a terrible effect on the treatment of animals and environmental conditions at factory farms

      I believe meat should be expensive, because to feed animals correctly and raise them ethically involves a lot of time and money. I personally am willing to occasionally eat this kind of meat, and do so infrequently enough that feel what I am doing is in check with the pace animals are raised and with what I can actually afford.

      There is a cool restaurant where I live that lists the local farms that their meat dishes come from, and I appreciate that kind of awareness and accountability. At the same time, I do not like how I feel physically after eating meat so there is not too much motivation to order the steak when there are marvelous couscous salads around. :)

      As you can see from the Pro-Veggie or Anti-Meat Post, there are just as many people who agree and disagree with this, and you are bound to run into them as you begin making active choices about your food.

      You just need to examine which issues are important to you, and then align your actions with your values.

      I think you should definitely continue wearing your shirt, because it represents a community of people (in which you belong) who are willing to be conscious eaters and it also raises awareness that there are alternative ways to fuel your body and still have successful athletic training.

      Thanks,
      Christine

    • I’m drug free but I smoke crack once a month or so because I reaaaallllyyyy crave it. What?!

  7. I love this blog so much more every time I read it! Today’s post for so many reasons – the snarky comments from others (to which I respond as thus:
    Snarky person: You know you need to eat meat.
    Snarky me: I either rub my belly or flex my bicep – whatever strikes me best at the time, then smile and say…..”Obviously not” :-) Then I walk away. It took me a while to get there, but now it’s my standard reaction.

    I also loved hearing about you giving up smoking, too – that one strikes close to home as well.

    Anyway – regarding the couscous salad. Awesome recipe. And I have an extra suggestion. Trader Joe’s sells a bagged couscous/quinoa/orzo/other grain mix called “Harvest Grain Mix.” I use this to make salads ALL the time. It is always a hit. I use whatever produce I have in the fridge, throw in some fets and olive oil. Sprinkle with lemon juice, let it sit in the fridge for a couple hours, then devour. I’ve never had leftovers :-)

  8. On another note I ran in Stockholm, Sweden last week in my NMA shirt.

    I feel a bit of a fraud as I am more a flexitarian, but still only eat meat 20% of the time.

    My reason for posting is to say how many smiles I got when I out running in my NMA shirt. I am on overweight runner so this was great for my ego, especially as most of those who smiled at me were cute Swedish blondes. Who says vegetarianism is only for smelly hippies ;-)

  9. Living in Canadian cattle country, I get it a lot. Some people take it as a person offense that I don’t support their livelihood by buying their product. Most just make off and comments and some truly are beyond rude of which I would never repeat. It’s rather sad and now I don’t respond, because as you said, their minds are already made up.

    But on entirely other note, that list of food they serve almost made me blind it looked so good. I went into a vegetarian induced daydream. Can’t wait to whip this up.

  10. I have been vegetarian since I was a kid, and vegan for over a year, so I’m used to all the snarky comments and they don’t phase me anymore. You’re right, she has already made up her mind and an argument wouldn’t have changed anything – at most, only reinforced people’s conceptions that vegetarians are soapboxy or something.

    Anyway, newer vegetarians or people who struggle with dealing with reactions from others should read Living Among Meat Eaters by Carol Adams. It’s incredibly helpful and goes along the lines of the smoking example you mentioned – our healthier diets call attention to the problems with other peoples’ diets without us saying a word about it, which is why they get so aggressive and/or defensive. It’s a good read. Thanks for the recipe. :)

  11. Matt, this is a great post, and recipe! Thank you! I’ve recently challenged myself to eat less meat ( no meat for 30 days actually and I have 10 left – so far successful!) and am finding so many amazing, healthy alternatives. Thanks again :)

    Can’t believe your health club story. Wow.

  12. I loved this post and I laughed out loud at the “pump ground beef into my veins” comment, that was hilarious! I also applaud you for taking the high road :)

    My family always makes comments when we go out to eat and unless it’s a really good restaurant, I order my standard salad and plain baked potato (I’ve been vegan since October). It’s funny how people take something you are doing for yourself so personally. I’m used to it now but it wasn’t easy at first.

  13. I think you did the right thing by ignoring her. You were definitely the bigger person there.
    I LOVE Israeli couscous, and this salad looks delectable! Love the selection of spices.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this story. When I gave up meat for Lent, I posted it on Facebook. I encountered such animosity and hostility that you would have thought I posted, “You are an evil person if you eat meat.”

  15. Nice story – dealing with ignorant people is no fun. You did the right thing – who needs to lecture others right before a workout.

    BTW, can’t get over how you Americans call this couscous lol I made a hub page about it (in my comluv link)

  16. I made this the other night as a side dish for dinner…it was quite tasty!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Couscous Surprise Salad from No Meat Athlete. This tasted so fresh and flavorful! Of course I served it over lettuce, it’s my tried and true test of a recipe’s worth. The only changes I made were using Thai Culinary Stock from wegmans in place of the water and using less dried fruit. It was my first time using the stock and I loved it, so if you have access to a Wegmans, please go buy it! [...]

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