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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)