Sunday, November 18, 2012

Couscous with Spiced Zucchini: Make every bite count

"I don't like food - I love it! And if I don't love it, I don't swallow."

The quote, the most iconic line from the villainous Anton Ego in the film Ratatouille, is at the center of our conversation as we sit, huddled around the table, mouths deep into burgers.

We're comfortable in the indulgence, licking the juice from our lips, peeling off stray pieces of slaw to eat with our fingers, and nonchalantly dipping fat onion rings into swimming pools of housemade ranch dressing.

Despite the decadence of the spread before us, we are all in agreement that it's worth it -- worth the calories that we'll inevitably have to work off at the gym the next morning, and worth the stomach space which, in our industry, has become an all too precious commodity.

As a restaurant publicist and food writer like the friends and colleagues sitting around me at the table, I'm never in danger of missing a meal. There's always a festival, a new restaurant to try, a preview tasting, a dozen prim cupcakes idling in the kitchen at the office, or new recipe for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie that I need to make. Now.

The sheer quantity of opportunities for me to eat, and eat well, is often overwhelming -- to the point where (woe is me) the greatest occupational hazard I can site is that there's too much food available for me to eat. I'm the jerk who groans when presented with a tasting menu, who has actually whined the words, "Mom, I have to go out to another five-course dinner...again."

While I would no longer describe myself as a picky eater a la the days when my mom had to strain the onions out of sauces for me, working in this industry has made me increasingly particular about the quality of the food I consume. I'll eat almost anything -- the only prerequisite being that it tastes good.

I, like many of my contemporaries, have turned Anton Ego's declaration into my mantra. That doesn't mean my purse is filled with napkins containing half-chewed pieces of well-done steak and gummy noodles, but rather that I strive to make every single bite (and sip) count.

It's why I turn down a slice of store-bought cake without an ounce of hesitation, why I would rather drink water than an astringent glass of wine, and why I take time to plan my meals -- from the carefully simmered stove-top oatmeal I eat for breakfast to the salads I bring with me to lunch.

On Sundays, I'll scour the farmers market for the perfect, unblemished zucchini. I'll soak and cook dried black beans rather than opening up a can. And I'll spend $6.99 on a block of imported feta cheese with a label I can't pronounce. Because I love food and want every bite to be worth swallowing. Even when it's something as simple as couscous.

Couscous with Spiced Zucchini and Black Beans
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4

Notes: This recipe. in various permutations, was my go-to lunch recipe during late summer and early fall. In August, I tucked in fresh corn, and swapped in garbanzo beans and sunflower seeds in place of the black beans and feta -- an iteration that may be my favorite to date. Whichever way you decide to toss it, yes, even with canned black beans, this salad is a great one to have in your wheelhouse for a quick side dish or satisfying lunch.

I took several liberties with the original recipe -- the most notable being significantly upping the spices, swapping cilantro for the mint, and adding black beans and feta. I see the original as a great template for creating a dish that is worth every bite to you.

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup whole wheat couscous
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lbs. zucchini, cut into 1/2'' cubes
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 16-ounce can black beans or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Crumbled feta cheese, for serving

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the couscous, turn off the heat, cover and let stand for 5-7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and saute, stirring occasionally until golden brown, approximately 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute for a minute over medium heat, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn. Once fragrant, add the zucchini and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and saute, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly, and add the coriander, chili powder, cumin, and pepper. Stir to coat the the veggies, and let cook for two minutes, stirring frequently to toast the spices. 

Toss the zucchini with the couscous and black beans, and refrigerate till chilled. Just prior to serving, toss the salad with the cilantro and lemon juice. Top with crumbled feta.


the actor's diet said...

i too find myself in a lot of situations where i'm overwhelmed with the opportunities to eat, eat, eat. that's why when i'm not, i'm kinda craving bland, boring food!

Ashley said...

All of my lunch staples come from you. This one's getting added to the list.