Variations on a Theme: Couscous

**Update 3/13: Ingredients have been changed to gluten-free**

Hello hello! My goodness, it was a strange semester. I won’t go into the sordid-ish details here, but suffice it to say that 2011 was thoroughly exhausting but also thoroughly fun. I actually feel like a grown-up now instead of like a fourteen-year-old masquerading as a college student. I still look about fourteen, though.

Amidst studying for finals and pretending to write a NaNoWriMo novel (read a slightly misquoted interview with my lovely novel-writing friend and me here), the number of posts around here dwindled quite a bit, as you probably noticed. Or maybe you didn’t notice. That’s okay. I never liked you, anyway.

The amount of cooking I did dwindled, too. In fact, I’m not really sure what I ate during most of November. I mostly remember drinking lots of Starbucks chai and occasionally hiding Chik-fil-A bags behind me as I walked through the Union so that people wouldn’t think I was anti-gay or something. I waffle when it comes to waffle fries.

When I did get around to cooking, though, I made couscous.

Couscous is far easier to cook than rice or pasta. The most involved of today’s recipes takes 30-40 minutes, tops.

Couscous hails from Morocco and other cool African places,  and my take on it is not exactly traditional. Usually served as an accompaniment to meaty things like lamb, I prefer to eat couscous as a main course. I eat sides as main courses a lot since I’m cooking for one, and we all know that the sides are usually better, anyway. Couscous is wildly versatile, too, and sometimes it’s even better cold, which makes it great for on-campus lunches when I’m not near a microwave. Below is basic couscous recipe, then three couscous variations. Add, adjust and subtract ingredients as you like, and send me your own variations. The final recipe for Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese (oy, that’s a delicious mouthful) is my favorite. It’s lovely and warm in these winter months. Luckily, you can find gluten-free brands of couscous, or you can substitute quinoa if you prefer. I personally find the nuttiness of quinoa too strong for any of these recipes.

Basic Couscous Recipe
Makes 1-2 servings

3/4 cup water or gluten-free chicken broth
2/3 cup dry gluten-free couscous
Approximately 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil

In a small saucepan, bring liquid and olive oil to a boil over medium heat. Quickly stir in couscous, then cover and remove from heat. Allow couscous to sit for five minutes. Then, return to low heat, add Parmesan, and stir until the Parmesan melts. Eat alone, or add some of the other stuff that follows.

Fluorescent lighting is weird, you guys.

Lemon Parsley Couscous
(adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup feta cheese

Make the couscous. Stir in the other stuff. Not even kidding. It’s that easy. Serve cold (my favorite) or warm. This recipe was originally intended as a side for a shrimp dish.

Pesto and Pine Nut Couscous
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1/3 cup (or more) of gluten-free pesto
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or whole

Make the couscous. Stir in as much or as little pesto as you’d like. If desired, toast the pinenuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake the skillet as you go to prevent burning. Toss pine nuts, feta, and tomatoes with the couscous. Serve warm or cold.

Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese
(kudos to Food Network Magazine for roasting tips)
Makes 1-2 servings

You guys, radishes are a revelation. I was working my way through a list of root vegetables in the Food Network magazine, and I actually stopped with radishes since they’re so delicious. I suspect I don’t hear people rhapsodizing about radishes more often because they’ve never had a radish roasted. The roasting takes out the bitterness usually associated with radishes. I’m particularly proud of this recipe for some reason. It’s not complicated, but I first made it just trying to use up the random things in my fridge, and it turned out astoundingly well. We’ll actually need sort-of steps for this one.

1 Basic couscous recipe
12-15 small red radishes, quartered
2-3 carrots, chopped into coins
1 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons gluten-free dried thyme
1/2 cup (or way, way more) of goat cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss radishes and carrots with oil and thyme. Spread radishes and carrots onto the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the veggies! Cook for 20-30 minutes, checking every five minutes or so to prevent burning.

2. Make basic couscous recipe. Combine all the roasted goodness with the couscous and as much goat cheese as you’d like. Serve to warm your soul on a winter’s day.

Up next: You know? I really have no idea. Cheers!

Garlic-Roasted Summer Sqaush

**Update 3/13: This recipe was written before I went gluten-free but should be safe for those on a g-free diet**

Thanks, everyone, for the positive reactions to the first post! I seriously appreciate the encouragement.

It’s always annoyed me that having garlic breath is such a Big Deal. I was reading a Barefoot Contessa cookbook recently and in her instructions for planning a dinner party, she forbade having anything garlicky on the menu. Garlic is undeniably delicious, and if everyone stopped being so silly about the smell and ate more of it, it would cease being a Big Deal and we could all get on with our lives. Like how if people stopped whitening their teeth so much, everyone’s teeth would be regular-looking instead of bluish-white, and then people with perfectly normal shades of teeth wouldn’t have to feel guilty about choosing not to whiten because that whitening gel stuff tastes terrible if you get it on your tongue, and then your teeth get all sensitive,  which means you can’t eat sweets or anything cold, and what’s the point of having teeth in the first place if you can’t eat sweets?

Anyway.


The gods of summer bestowed plenty of yellow summer squash upon us this year. I haven’t always been a squash fan, but this super easy recipe has converted me. Garlic and herbes de provence enhance the natural yumminess of this bizarrely-shaped vegetable.

Fun fact: Herbes de provence is mix of herbs typically found in the Provence region of France. I used to think it was silly pretentious thing to buy, but now I swear by it. You can find herbes de provence at the grocery store, but if you don’t have it on hand, use a mixture of dried rosemary, thyme, marjoram, lavender, basil, oregano, and/or fennel seed.

Garlic-Roasted Summer Squash
(adapted from allrecipes.com)

3 small summer squash (2 if using medium-sized squash)
A little less than 1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Herbes de provence, 1 tbsp or enough to coat the squash [gluten-free readers: if you are using a dry herb mix, be sure to use McCormick’s brand since they claim that their spices contain less than 20 ppm]
Dash of garlic powder*
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450F

2. Trim the ends from the squash and alternate cutting across and lengthwise until you have about 8-16 slices from each squash, each roughly 2.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. In a bowl, toss the squash slices with olive oil and minced garlic.

3. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and arrange the squash slices in the pan. Sprinkle liberally with herbes de provence. Add dashes of salt and pepper.

4. Roast in the oven until garlic and squash start to brown and the edges of the squash are crspy, about 10-15 minutes. Check the squash every 2-3 minutes to avoid burning.

5. Serve as a side dish for four, or eat alone with a slice of good bread; the olive oil and spices left over in the pan are too delicious not to be sopped up.

Wear your garlic breath proudly, folks. Enjoy.