When it comes to recipes, I see them more as guidelines than hard and fast rules — a thoughtfully crafted set of suggestions with the purpose of nudging my techniques and flavors in the right direction. In the end I have final say on what stays and what goes, though it’s often a case of what’s on hand and what’s healthiest.

But I’m trying to recreate a favorite couscous salad from a store back home, and what I wouldn’t give for a recipe. Israeli couscous, black beans, sweet potato, smoky undertones and a spicy kick from the vinaigrette. I wouldn’t stray an inch.

The flavors were wonderful, but the heat was too little, the sweet potatoes diced too large, not enough vinaigrette and, achh, I forgot the scallions. Practice makes perfect, and thankfully this salad is light and easy to eat day in, day out.

Obviously I was on the right track. So, prior notations (and scallions) in hand, I was back for another whirl, somewhat happy now that I didn’t have that recipe to begin with. The second attempt was closer to the original, though not an exact match, yet.

I am certain this salad will be revisited many times in the future, popping up at barbecues, weeknight suppers, as a light lunch. That said, I’m darn pleased with this version. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Spicy Sweet Potato Black Bean Israeli Couscous Salad [serves 4]

Printable recipe

For the Vinaigrette:

1/2 c rice vinegar

1/2 to 1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, finely chopped (up it to 1 1/2 to 2, if you dare)

1 T adobo sauce from the canned chipotles

2 t mild-flavored honey

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

3/4 c mild olive or canola oil

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

+ + +

For the Salad:

1 c + 2 T chicken or vegetable stock

4 medium or 2 large sweet potato (about 1 1/2 lb), peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes

4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 1/2 c Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)

1/2 c canned black beans, rinsed well and drained

4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

1/2 c chopped cilantro

smoked paprika, for dusting

Heat oven to 400° F.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, chipotle, adobo sauce, honey and garlic, then slowly add the olive oil and whisk until combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Bring broth and 3/4 c water to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover to keep warm.

Put sweet potatoes on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 T oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to toss with couscous.

Heat the remaining 2 T olive oil over medium-high heat, add the couscous and toast, stirring often, until lightly golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the warmed broth-water mixture and salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender, 9 to 10 minutes.

Drain the cooked couscous well, and place in a large serving bowl. Just before serving, toss with a bit of the vinaigrette. Add the roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, scallions, cilantro and another generous splash of the vinaigrette; gently toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more vinaigrette if too dry. Be careful not to overmix.

Serve warm or at room temperature, generously dusting the top of each serving with smoked paprika.

Inspired by a similar salad from Sendik’s