Cous Cous with Cilantro Pesto & Halloumi

Cous Cous Salad

One of the hazards of working home, alone, in your pajamas, is that you lose track of time. With M away on a work trip this week, my days were punctuated with a cup of morning espresso, yogurt and granola (if I was good), or a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. Then I would dive into the big black hole of writing, emailing, Twittering, writing, writing and more writing, until mid-afternoon when hunger pangs reminded me that I had forgotten about lunch. An afternoon snack would ensue – some fresh tomatoes, or figs, or grapes for a much-needed sugar boost, and, if I’m particularly sleepy, a cup of earl grey. And then it would be time to start thinking about dinner, a thought process best undertaken with a glass of good red wine and Alexander Ebert on the sound system.

I’m not exactly proud of missing lunch with such (terrifying) frequency, but sometimes when you’re in the ‘flow’, deep in the trenches of digging out and articulating the essence of that idea, that story, it’s just not possible to tear yourself away from the screen and go, “See you later!” to the thought process that took, oh, just over an hour for you to get there.

Writing. I have a love-hate relationship with it, filled with too many pockets of procrastination. What about you?

Cilantro Walnut Pesto

Speaking about procrastination, one of Seth Godin’s recent posts about wasting time was music to my ears. Did you know that wasting time is a key part of our lives? The question, then, is whether you do it productively.

It sheds a whole new light on those hours spent flipping through the latest issue of Gourmet Traveller or Bon Appetit when they arrive in the mail. Or putting important things like the laundry on hold while researching recipe ideas for the loads of Gravenstein apples that we’re blessed with from our tree. This recipe for a cous cous salad is the fruit of a time-wasting afternoon leafing through Romney Steele’s latest cookbook, Plum Gorgeous. It’s beautifully photographed by the ever-talented Sara Remington and the recipes are simple, refreshing springboards for the home cook’s experimentation. The original recipe features kumquats and toasted cous cous tossed in a light vinaigrette. Since I had a big bunch of cilantro sitting around feeling rather dejected about themselves, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to turn them into pesto and use it here, substituting our tomatoes for kumquats. The slices of salty, tangy Halloumi cheese tie everything together for a light, simple meal – the perfect dish to make up for those lunches I missed this week.


Cous Cous Salad with Cilantro Pesto and Halloumi

Inspired by Plum Gorgeous / Serves 2

You’ll have a fair bit of cilantro pesto leftover, which is a happy problem. We like to toss it in our pastas, serve it with fish, and lately, using it in Heidi’s summer squash gratin recipe.


  • 1 ounce/ 28 grams walnuts
  • 3 ounces (1-2 bunches) cilantro, stems trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • ½ cup/ 120 ml olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces/ 113 grams Halloumi cheese, sliced
  • ½ cup cous cous
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 8 ounces/ 225 grams fresh tomatoes, sliced into quarters or eighths
  • A few mint leaves, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 300F/ 150C. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast for 10 minutes, until the pieces turn beige. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a food processor, combine the chopped cilantro, toasted walnuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice and some of the olive oil. Process until you get a thick green paste. Turn the mixture out into a medium bowl and stir in the parmesan and the rest of the olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan, then fry the Halloumi slices until both sides start to crisp and turn golden brown. Set aside.
  4. Place the cous cous in a bowl or a saucepan, add the freshly boiled water, cover and let it sit for 10 minutes before stirring and fluffing the grains.
  5. When ready to serve, add about two tablespoons of the pesto to the cous cous, mixing well. Portion the cous cous on each plate, then top with the slices of Halloumi and tomatoes. Garnish with a few mint leaves and a squeeze of lemon if you like. You could also set out the ingredients separately for people to help themselves.

Cous Cous Salad

This salad is part of this month’s Let’s Lunch theme of cold entrees. Before you go, check out my fellow lunchers’ posts below. And if you’d like to join us, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

Cheryl‘s Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles at A Tiger In The Kitchen

Cathy‘s Jasmine Tea-Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls at Showfood Chef

Eleanor‘s Cold Noodles with Stir-Fried Vegetables, Hoisin Pork & Spicy Shrimp at Be A Wok Star

Linda‘s Gazpacho Rolls Gone Wrong at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Byron Sprout Salad with Chargrilled Chicken at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Mai‘s Strawberry Soup at Cooking in The Fruit Bowl

Maria‘s Croque Monsieur with Bechamel at Maria’s Good Things

Rebecca‘s Cold Roasted Lamb with Mustard & Rosemary at Grongar Blog

Victor‘s Seafood Napoleon at The Taste of Oregon


  1. i meant to leave a comment last week but I got distracted! I was probably getting sucked in on pinterest HAHAHA!!! This recipe looks fantastic. I’ve been wanted to fry up some halloumi for ages! I always see it in Donna Hay and I think you’ve finally motivated me. Thanks,D!!!

  2. Joy

    Absolutely love this! I haven’t cooked cous cous in a while, and it’s about time. I’m with you — I procrastinate, but I like to think I’m doing it well with reading and catching up with friends. It’s never wasted time. 🙂

  3. Danielle

    @Cheryl: Thanks for the tip, I haven’t noticed any olallieberries at our market, but will keep a look out for it. Looking forward to sharing a lunch with you soon!

    @la domestique: May Seth’s blog add, not detract from, your writing mojo.

    @Jenn: I was listening to an author interview on NPR a few months ago discussing her inspiration for the characters in her novels. She shared that she keeps all her observations about human behavior in the ‘compost bin’ of her mind that she draws on when writing a novel. Very apt description don’t you think?

    @Victor: You’re welcome, you can make pesto out of virtually anything green – broccoli, parsley, though I’m not quite sure what a kale pesto would taste like…

    @Cathy: Yay for chocolate chip cookie breakfasts! That’s what I call a balanced diet 😉

    @Eleanor: So glad it resonated with you.

    @Mai: I bet you have your fair share of war stories from this front, as a professional journalist 🙂

    @Maria: No, it is never too early for couscous and halloumi. Your brain needs a midnight snack to carry you triumphantly across your deadline!

    @Tiger: Thank you!

    @Truffle: You’re the perfect example of what Seth Godin talked about in his post. Good on you for procrastinating productively!

    @Ousi: This halloumi (as is most of those sold here I expect) is made from pasteurized milk, so yes, good ol’ halloumi is still here waiting for you.

    @Tracy: I am honored that you set aside Pinterest time to comment on this post. Raising a glass to you!

    @Joy: You’re so right, and of course you’re doing it well!

  4. El

    Enlightening post on the hazards of working at home. I bought the most obnoxious timer imaginable to tell me to get off the computer after 40 minutes. Lunch looks great. I like that it’s something you can make in advance and keep.

  5. Pingback: Recipe Roundup: August 26, 2011 | The JBF Blog

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