Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Easy as Couscous

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who write "couscous," those who write "couscous," those who can't count, and those who don't know when to let a bad joke die. I don't know which spelling is right, and I suspect that this is one of those annoying occasions when there's no wrong answer (we here at anapestic get downright grumpy when everybody's right). Google reports that "couscous" appears about four times as often as "cous cous," but I draw no conclusion from that datum.

For the time being, I'll stick with "couscous" while regretting that I have no way to segue gracefully into the following sentence. I have decided that it is time to stop hating Nigella Lawson because she's beautiful. I've largely reached this conclusion because she showed me the easiest way imaginable to make couscous, so there is some sort of train of thought that didn't entirely jump the tracks (minor injuries only, and the property damage is all covered by insurance).

I prefer whole wheat couscous, but you can certainly use the other (part wheat?) couscous if you prefer. The method is the same. Also, if you don't approve of bouillon cubes, just use some salt and perhaps some other spices. Couscous is meant to be something of a blank canvas upon which to present your meal, but it is nice if you can take a forkful of it without any sauce and still enjoy it.

2 cups couscous
2 cups water
2 cubes chicken bouillon
1 can chick peas, drained

Put the couscous in a large bowl of the sort that does not break when boiling water is poured into it.

Put the water in a saucepan and add the bouillon cubes. Cover and bring to the boil.

Dump the chickpeas on top of the couscous then pour on the boiling liquid. Stir once, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for ten minutes. Fluff with a fork. (If you want to live dangerously, add a tablespoon of sesame oil at this point. I haven't tested it that way, but how bad could it be?) Serve.

It occurs to me that I'm possibly the only person in the world who was unaware that couscous could be so easily prepared. Consequently, I feel a bit guilty about making an entire post out of nothing more than boiling some water and dumping it over some couscous. It seems wrong to take longer to describe a process than it would take to make the recipe. As a result, I will toss in, free of charge, my recipe for caramelized walnuts. I added some of these to the beet and fennel salad that I made for Saturday's dinner, and I have been eating the rest out of hand. They have a tendency to stick to the teeth a bit, but they're tasty.

2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups walnut halves

Melt the butter over medium heat; if you're using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt. Stir in the sugar and the balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook until it starts to bubble up (this only takes a couple of minutes). Put in the walnuts, and stir to coat the walnuts with the caramel. If, as I did, you use your Calphalon two-quart chef's skillet, you can just flip them around without having to use a stirring implement. Flipping food in this way always makes me feel wonderfully accomplished. (I have not yet progressed so far as flipping the nuts in the pan while alternately sipping wine and talking in a Julia Child voice, but a boy can dream.) Cook them for a couple of minutes, until they are very well coated, and then turn them out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (I would suggest that a Silpat would work just as well, but that would only remind me that I don't own a Silpat, and then I might start to pout, and that is never attractive.) Put the sheet into a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes, or until they are well caramelized. They go into the oven already the color of burnt caramel, so you can't rely on color to tell when they're done, but I think it would take a long time to burn them.

Caramelized walnuts make a terrific addition to almost any salad. They are especially good with a salad of baby spinach, sliced pears, and manchego, but use your imagination. I would suggest chopping a few up and mixing them with some nice gorgonzola and spreading the mixture on some delicious ripe pears, but that would only get me going about the pear trees in the backyard. V. has managed to convince me that you can't just let the pears ripen on the tree, and I don't really have any idea when to put them in a paper bag to get ripe. I will, of necessity, have to wait until I'm back from England, and there will probably still be bushels then, but who knows? And then I'll have to decide what to do with them. I will likely preserve them an a manner similar to the way Toast does her peaches and cherries, but there are still a lot of details to work out. I would perhaps use a red wine syrup (extra acid can only help, I reckon, though I'd mainly be going for the flavor), similar to what I used for my poached pears, then boil the syrup down some and add some additional rum to the jars before sealing them. Exact proportions remain unknown at this point, but since I should probably not count my pears before they're ripe, I will live with the uncertainty for now.


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