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.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.