If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I’m willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it’s often the simple, repetitive dishes that we’ve either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we’re feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I’d hop on the cauliflower “rice” bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
I recently came across Tamar Adler’s piece in Bon Appetit in which she lays out the concept of the house meal. The idea is simple: it’s your go-to, the meal that’s in your wheelhouse, and that you can always rely on. Repetitive by nature, the house meal is the dish you fall back on when there’s no other plan, so it’s best if it’s comprised of simple ingredients, is easy adaptable, and is healthy-ish.“Why one needs such a meal is perhaps evident—because having to become inspired and think and plan and shop each time one wants to eat a home-cooked meal is a tall order,” Adler writes. And for me this was never more clear than when we had Oliver. There are many nights (most nights, really) when we end up piecing together a meal from leftovers or odds and ends in the fridge — and it’s often delicious, but there are many nights when it’s also quite basic and reliable — our version of the house meal.
In Adler’s house growing up, rice and beans was in rotation and today she finds she and her partner reaching for eggs and greens as their house meal. As I mentioned, ours is typically some form of a whole grain bowl: leftover grains, leftover roasted veggies, a crumble or two of cheese, a few nuts or seeds, something creamy like yogurt or sour cream. Homemade pesto in the summer, maybe. Preserved lemon in the winter. Because I’m in the habit of cooking a pot of grains on the weekend, we generally have some lurking in the refrigerator waiting for their big moment, but if not, there are a number of quick-cooking grains that make this house meal doable in a pinch (quinoa, millet, bulghur wheat).
While I realize the recipe I’m sharing with you today doesn’t include grains at all, it’s a very, very close cousin to the kind of whole grain bowls I’m talking about. As you know, Sam is Lebanese so we always have cans of chickpeas in the pantry and rely on them at least a few days a week; I found some organic cauliflower on sale at the market and we had greens in the crisper already, so this one came together rather by whim.
I’ve never made cauliflower “rice” before but I’ve been seeing it everywhere lately, and I like the concept of using it as a base for a lighter meal. Instead of simply pan-cooking it with the veggies, I decided to cook it more like a couscous, adding vegetable broth to plump up the chickpeas and raisins and slowly softening up the riced cauliflower. To adopt it and make it your own, play around with any vegetables you’d like to fold into the cauliflower base and use any greens you’d like (kale, spinach or arugula would be great). You could add some leftover shredded chicken or pork or baked tofu for even more protein. Maybe lentils call to you rather than chickpeas. The options feel endless. I would say, however, that the Greek yogurt on top feels pretty essential to me (although it is obviously dairy free and vegan without it): the creaminess helps cut some of the heat from the warmer spices. And the nuts add a nice crunch. The couscous keeps really well for a few days in the fridge — as any house meal worth its weight should.
This vegetarian main dish comes together quickly once you chop the greens and cauliflower, and I think leftovers are even better the second day. While you could certainly grate the cauliflower on a box grater if you’d like, I prefer to process it in the food processor. Many markets now sell bags of “pre-riced” cauliflower, so if you go this route, you’ll want to make sure you have about 4 – 4 1/2 cups.
Cut the cauliflower into large florets, and discard the inner core. Working in two batches, pulse the cauliflower until finely chopped in a food processor – be careful not to over-process or it’ll turn to mush. You will be left with about 4 cups (460g) of cauliflower “rice.”
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the cauliflower rice, chickpeas, raisins, curry powder, cumin, coriander and salt and stir well. Add the stock and cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.
Fold in the chard, parsley and green onions. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as desired. Serve in your favorite bowls, topped with a dollop of yogurt, pinch of parsley and toasted almonds or cashews.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.