"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 Dinner, Minor Miracles, Vegetarian

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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!

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