"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 sure thing

by Julie Tilsner on May 15, 2007

in Minor Miracles, Dinner, Vegetarian

Everyone needs a dish they can pull out of thin air and impress strangers with. Many people have several. I have one. And I am grateful.

No. I’m not talking about the dish in the photo. Oy.

This dish has accompanied me to every potluck and every picnic I’ve attended in the last ten years. It’s a concoction that not only tastes good, but looks good too. More to the point, it makes me look good.

No matter where I take it, invariably at least three people will approach on hands and knees, begging for the recipe. They’ve devoured their plate, noted that the communal plate has been consumed in the five minutes it took them to digest, and they make the assumption that this dish is a complicated, secret recipe of my own devising. If I were a more clever woman, I would play on this assumption. Except that would mean I’d be expected to follow up my bravado with a dinner party or something. And that, as readers of this blog know all too well, is a feat I can’t much pull off.

So I quickly cop to the truth. Vegetable Couscous. It’s a simple recipe, pulled from Jeanne Lemlin’s mighty Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. It involves the chopping of an onion and two small zucchini squash, plus measuring out a few spices. Also, the making of some couscous, which in this day and age, with a Trader Joe’s around the corner, is an instant, almost idiot-proof task. Yes, thank you, even I can do it. Usually with some semblance of success.

The upshot is, this is one delicious dish. Fresh-tasting yet tangy. The spices beguile. The couscous underneath lends a comforting, buttery starch, for those of you who are squeamish about lots of veggies cooked together. Just about everyone loves this one. Including avowed carnivores and my own ten-year-old daughter. Don’t believe me? Take this to your next potluck and see for yourself:

2 Tbs olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, diced (or thereabouts. Fineness doesn’t really matter here)
2 tsps ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 medium zucchini squashes, cut lengthwise, then lengthwise again, and chopped into little squares
1 15-oz can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 16-oz can of diced tomatoes, including juice
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tsp salt
1 or 2 tbsp butter
1 cup couscous

heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the spices, and cook a few minutes more, stirring often.

Stir in the zucchini, chick peas, followed by the tomatoes, then the raisins. Cover the pan and lower heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender.

While the vegetables are brewing, prepare the couscous. Bring the veggie stock to a boil with butter and salt (if you’re using it, and I say, life’s too short not to use butter whenever you can). Stir in the couscous, cover tightly and remove from heat. Let it sit 5 minutes, or however long it takes you to finish the veggies. Fluff with a fork before serving.

You can make the vegetable part of this dish a day or two before with nothing but upside flavor potential. Impress everyone by serving the couscous in an audacious Moroccan bowl with the veggie mixture mounded in the center.

A final aside: Quick Vegetarian Pleasures is one of those rare cookbooks in which almost every entree is a winner. Simple, sure. But even snobs have to enjoy good eatin’.

Happy potlucks!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Elfini May 16, 2007 at 9:41 am

Wait a minute – I have everything I need for this dish except the onion, zucchini and veg stock – and I’m going to the market today. I will make this with the new chicken recipe I’m trying out. It’s crazy but this SAHM-thing even has ME venturing into the kitchen!


holler May 16, 2007 at 7:07 am

I love couscous, it is so quick to make, although I have to say that I am not usually adventurous with flavouring it. I usually just throw whatever veg or salad I have in and give it a mix.
I make it in vegetable stock instead of water, just leaving it to soak instead of cooking it and I like to add some pesto!
But this sure sounds good!
I have been invited to a party next month, where we all take a dish, so I will give this a go before then. I was pondering over what to take!


AT May 16, 2007 at 9:20 am

Mr. Flamenco guitarist here; sorry to bleat, but I’m still waiting for your (wonderful) couscous and lamb {hopefully prepared in your Tagine}…love the BHC!


Bad Home Cook May 16, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Holler: Let me know how it goes over…do they like veggie stuff in Scotland?
Mr. Flamenco Guitarist: Patience is a virtue, mi vida. You’ll get yours….and I’ll blog about it, too.
Elfini: God SAVE US ALL!


sadaf trimarchi May 17, 2007 at 6:48 pm

thanks for a great recipe! I tried this tonight as a side dish, and it came out great. Used fresh tomato as I had no canned, and just plain water instead of veg stock, but it was still delicious. Was thinking about adding some toasted pine nuts next time. Added bonus, it looks so pretty!


holler May 21, 2007 at 3:51 pm

Hi, It’s me again! I have once more have linked to your couscous (no, everybody I don’t have shares, but I do think it’s a great recipe). It is Vegetarian Week here in the UK and I thought it would be a good addition as a main course! hope you don’t mind.


elfini May 29, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Sorry I didn’t comment sooner – I’ll pull the baby card.
This dish is just as wonderful as you described it. The husband could not stop raving about it. So I made it again last week. And the man was so happy he bought me diamonds. The end.


Bad home cook May 29, 2007 at 2:45 pm

Flamenco guitarist: How do you respond?!
Actually, I haven’t made this for him, because I don’t think he’d like it all that much…too many veggies. So I guess he wouldn’t know…


The Blog May 30, 2007 at 4:37 am

The Blog

Provides extranet privacy to clients making a range of tests and surveys available to their [url=http://auase.info/Ml8xMjQzMzU=]human[/url] resources departments.


Karen March 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

My favorite from that book is the Mediterranean Pasta and Veggie Salad:
I also recall making the Tempeh Spread many years ago.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: