By Addie Broyles
More Content Now
I rarely plan weekday meals by thinking of the finished product first. Instead, I think about what protein or vegetable needs using first, what pasta, grain or carb I've been craving, and how I want to combine them.
On a recent work-from-home Monday afternoon, lunchtime was quickly approaching, and I knew I had a small part of a leftover steak from the weekend that needed some love. I thought about making tacos, but we'd just had tacos the night before. I thought about making a veggie stir-fry or mac and cheese, but those dishes, too, had recently been on the menu.
But couscous. Aha! That was a blank canvas I hadn't used lately, and I knew I could stretch out the steak by mixing it with a big pan of sauteed onions and zucchini. Once those wheels started turning, I remembered an eggplant that was also at risk of being forgotten in the vegetable drawer, and suddenly the meal started to come together in my head.
I started slicing up the vegetables, and by the time the water for the couscous was boiling, the eggplant was dry-searing on a large cast-iron comal and the zucchini and onions were frying over high heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil with a heavy pinch of paprika and salt. After the squash-and-onion mixture softened and started to blacken on the edges, I added the slices of cooked steak to warm up, and the eggplant, seasoned only with salt, got a big squeeze of lemon juice.
The entire meal was finished by the time the couscous had softened. At the last minute, I decided to make the steak-and-zucchini mixture into more of a stew, so I added a generous cup of water and a wee spoonful of Better Than Bouillon, which made a luscious broth that the couscous could soak up in the bowl. It was (insert chef's kiss emoji).
Our veggie-heavy lunch was ready faster than we could have ordered delivery, plus I didn't let those leftovers go to waste, and I used an inexpensive pantry staple that I forget about far too often.
The dish reminded me of this recipe from "Tasty Every Day: All of the Flavor, None of the Fuss" by BuzzFeed (Clarkson Potter, $19.99), which calls for roasting cauliflower and pan-searing chicken. It's a good tutorial if you've never made couscous before and prefer to follow a recipe, but once you master the couscous - use a 1 to 1 1/2 cup ratio of couscous to boiling water, and let sit, off the heat, with a lid for 5 to 10 minutes - you can adapt the rest of the dish to whatever else you have in your kitchen.
It's the kind of flexible cooking style that makes feeding yourself a lot less stressful, especially if you're not much of a meal planner.
Moroccan Tagine Bowl
A classic Moroccan tagine is a stew of chicken or lamb, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and plenty of spices cooked to perfection in a cone-shaped clay pot called a tagine. But there's no need to buy your own tagine to make this tagine - a skillet will do just fine. You'll still get the bold flavors of coriander and paprika and the delicious combination of sweet and savory.
- Editors of Buzzfeed
1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into florets (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 to 6 ounces each)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
10 ounces baby spinach
1 1/2 cups dried couscous
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the cauliflower out on the prepared baking sheet and bake until tender and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let cool.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then sprinkle with the coriander and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the skillet and cook until cooked through and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes, then cut each breast crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until wilted and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat and then remove from heat. Add the couscous, cover, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Once the water has been fully absorbed, fluff the couscous with a fork. Stir in the apricots, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes more, until the dried fruit is warmed.
Divide the couscous among four bowls. Top with the chicken, cauliflower and spinach, sprinkle with the almonds, and serve. Serves 4.
- From "Tasty Every Day: All of the Flavor, None of the Fuss" by the editors of Buzzfeed (Clarkson Potter, $19.99)
Addie Broyles writes about food for the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at @broylesa