Simple Side Dishes
Some evenings I get caught in a side dish rut. I can usually come up with a tasty and unique main dish, but when it comes to starch-based sides, I get stuck in the rice or potato circle of cooking. Granted, there are 1001 and one ways to cook either of those ingredients (I think I have a cookbook by that title, as a matter of fact), but sometimes I just want something different. There is always pasta, but I don’t always want to mess with the mass quantities of water needed to boil pasta.
Last night when I was confronting my latest rice/potato rut, I came across couscous in my pantry. It was the best of all worlds: not rice or potatoes but still a starch, and the instant version I had cooks in about 5 minutes. Why do I never remember to make couscous?
If you aren’t familiar with it, couscous is pasta made from semolina flour. Couscous is made by adding a very small amount of water to semolina and then rolled to form small pellets. The pellets are then sprinkled with dry flour and passed through a sieve. Any pellets that are small enough to pass directly through the sieve, repeat the process until all of the semolina are made into similar sized granules. The graduals are then steamed until light and fluffy. The instant or quick-cook version we find in most Western supermarkets is pre-steamed and then dried.
Couscous’s coarseness creates a delicious texture when cooked, and it mixes well with a number of ingredients. Using couscous as a base, you can make a wide variety of delicious side dishes and even meals.
How do I cook it?
To cook instant couscous (the type available in most stores–it has already been steamed and dehydrated, making it faster to prepare), measure 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of butter into a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add 2 cups dry couscous, stir, cover, and remove from heat. Let the couscous sit for 5 minutes before removing the lid. Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in one of the following combinations of other ingredients.
Now you can whatever ingredients you want to make a tasty side dish or meal. Try these combinations for your next meal!
Tomato-Cucumber Chicken Couscous
For a light, delicious, one-dish meal that can be served hot or cold, try adding 1 c. diced fresh tomatoes, 1 c. diced fresh cucumbers, and 1 c. diced cooked chicken breast to the couscous. Season with basil, oregano, and garlic powder to taste.
A fresh Mediterranean salad, tabbouleh makes a refreshing side dish with grilled meat. To make a simple tabbouleh, stir in 1 tbs. olive oil, 1 c. diced fresh tomatoes, 4 tbs. chopped fresh mint, 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley, the juice of one lemon, 1/2 c. chopped green onions, and crumbled feta cheese to taste.
Couscous Cranberry Salad
Want a salad that’s a blend of sweetness and spice? Start by cooking the couscous in chicken broth rather than water. Then stir in 1/2 c. dried cranberries, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 c. sliced toasted almonds, 1/4 c. finely chopped sweet onion, 2 tsp. olive oil, and 1 tbs. fresh mint.
Beef and Couscous Lettuce Wraps
Brown 1 lb. of ground beef, seasoning with soy sauce, fresh garlic, and ginger. Once the beef is thoroughly cooked, add 2 c. finely chopped vegetables–cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and/or onions–and sauté for 3-5 minutes until cooked but still crunchy. Stir the mixture into cooked couscous, adding 1 tbs. fresh mint if desired, and serve with fresh lettuce.
Curried Couscous with Chicken
A one-dish dinner with Indian flair, curried couscous with chicken is a delicious, speedy option. Start by cooking the couscous in chicken stock or broth. To the cooked couscous, add 1 tbs. curry powder, 1/2 c. chopped olives, 1 bunch of chopped cilantro, 1/2 c. sun dried tomatoes, 2 tbs. olive oil, 1/2 cup cubed feta cheese and 1. c. diced cooked chicken breast. Stir and serve.
Your Turn: What are your favorite sides?