I made the mistake several months ago of confirming a rumor that an acquaintance had recently overheard: I make dinner, not on occasion,but every night of the week. Based on her mixed expression of horror and disbelief, I imagine she envisioned our encounter a momentary escape, and that the rest of my day was spent chained to the kitchen island, slicing, stirring, and otherwise slaving in pursuit of an evening meal.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
With few exceptions, my guiding principles for weekday meals are speed and simplicity. These are coupled with a strategy: keep my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer well-stocked with quick-cooking staples that allow me to create nutritious and delicious dinners with minimal fuss.
One such staple that I am never without is couscous. Couscous resembles a small grain, but is in fact a tiny, sesame seed-shaped pasta that cooks to perfection in 5 minutes. To make basic couscous–any amount–use a 1:1 ratio of boiling liquid to couscous. Place the couscous in a bowl and pour the boiling liquid over; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Remove the cover, and fluff with a fork to separate the “grains” of couscous. That’s it!
Couscous is a favorite side dish of mine because it absorbs the flavors and juices of whatever else I’m making. Like the perfect little black dress, it goes with everything and can be accessorized to suit all occasions. I’m especially partial chopped fresh herbs and toasted nuts.
Just as often, I like to make couscous the focal point of the meal. Think main dish salad, the underpinnings of a vegetarian stew, or a faster foundation than noddles for pesto, marinara, or olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
If you want more structure than this loose set of ideas, try this hearty couscous; it work equally well as a main (add some chicken if you want more protein), side or for several days after. It’s very versatile, so use what nuts and fruits you have on hand.
Spiced Couscous with Chickpeas & Dried Cherries
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth1 and 1/2 cups plain couscous (regular or whole wheat)1 and 1/4 cups dried cherries, or dried cranberries or raisins
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Bring broth to boil in heavy large saucepan; turn off heat. Immediately mix in couscous, cherries, cumin, and cinnamon. Cover and let stand until couscous is tender and broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Mix in chickpeas, nuts, green onions and cilantro. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste. Transfer to bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (about 1 and 1/4 cups):
Calories 237; Fat 2.5g (poly 0.5g, mono 1.6g, sat 0g); Protein 8.8g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 47.9g; Sodium 243mg; Fiber 5.1)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)