"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

The Tomato Couscous that Couldn’t

by Julie on November 11, 2013

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

So Saturday I grilled some salmon and made couscous and a lovely roasted beet and feta cheese salad. I had a fresh baguette and chilled white wine, too.  There were no takers.

The Drama Teen skipped out with friends. The boy grunted his disinclination to eat from behind his gaming console. No friends were around. The chef was down in San Diego attending his own kids. I even texted the lovely ex to see if he wanted to swing by and be fed. Alas, he’d already eaten.

So I ate a plate by myself, and, feeling sorta sad, packed up the rest and tucked it into the refrigerator.

The next morning I had the bright idea to try my hand at one of the recipes in my favorite cookbook, Jerusalem: Couscous with tomato and onion. Because I had the couscous, and onion and tomato paste. I didn’t have two big juicy tomatoes (although the local farm I buy produce from is growing its third crop in this sunny SoCal November), so I thought I could just use diced from a can instead.

The best part about this simple, comforting dish is the tadig – the crust on top you create by cooking the bottom in oil and butter then flipping the whole thing upside down onto a plate. I’ve made many a tadig…(It’s a Persian thing. And I learned from Persians. One day I’ll share the simple but extraordinary tadig and eggs dish)… so I didn’t expect this to go as badly as it did.

Here’s what it was supposed to look like:

couscous with tomatoes and onions from the cookbook "Jerusalem"

Pretty and straightforward

It couldn’t be easier. Dice one medium onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Add one tablespoon tomato paste and 1/2 teaspoon sugar and cok for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add either 2 very ripe tomatoes or use canned/diced. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and ground pepper to taste – cook for three minutes, let cool just a bit. Meanwhile, combine one cup of dried couscous in a bowl and pour one cup of boiling chicken or veg stock over it. Stir once and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to steam for 10 minutes, uncover, fluff with fork.

Add tomato mix to the couscous. Then clean out your pan, gently heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter, and scoop the couscous in, pressing it down with your spoon. Cover and cook at the lowest heat you can for 10-12 minutes or until you can see a light brown crust forming on the bottom.

Here’s what mine turned out like:




Meh, you shrug. By Bad Home Cook standards, that’s pretty basic. True. True. But examine my epic tadig fail:

Nobody's tadig...

Nobody’s tadig…

So there you go. Once again I botch the simplest of dishes so you don’t have to. I realize I screwed up in two places (I have progressed far enough now to understand — usually — what went wrong.)

1.) I should have drained them tomatoes, and maybe not used the entire 15-ounce can.

2.) I should have used the non-stick skillet I used to make my tortilla Española in.

Despite looking like glop, it did taste good. So there’s that, anyway.

And as an added bonus, my weekend house guest had no problem tucking into the roasted beet and feta salad for breakfast.  And the Drama teen can have cold salmon and rice for lunch tomorrow.

Things are picking up. Stay tuned…I’m learning how to make curry tomorrow. THAT’ll be a hoot….



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

alice November 18, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Yum! I tried the chicken and cardamom dish from Jerusalem that the NYT posted and it was really good, except my rice was unevenly cooked. I sort of labored through a whole pot of it throughout the week, but this is just to tell you that it’s not only you! Next time I will finish the dish in the oven instead of on the stove – live and learn.


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