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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.