After a night out drinking delicious beer and feasting on succulent Coca-Cola braised baby back ribs, I was in the mood to cook something healthy. So when it came time to choose a dish for this week's magazine recipe review, I selected the Vegetable Couscous Pilaf from the March issue of Food & Wine.
I love the complex spiciness of Moroccan-inspired food, and I liked the fact that it was a one-pot (minimum cleanup) meal. But what really sold me on the recipe was that no fancy equipment—food processors, microplanes—was needed. I was going to be making dinner at my boyfriend's apartment, in a kitchen devoid even of measuring spoons.
After much chopping and dicing, made all the more tedious by the fact that I was using a steak knife, the vegetables were sautéing on the stove. I added generous pinches of salt and pepper, plus cumin and smoked paprika, before I realized that I had forgotten to buy caraway seeds. (I declined my boyfriend's offer to pick them out of slices of rye bread and decided to just proceed without them.)
Even without the caraway seeds, the recipe a success. I loved the sweet, snappy flavor of the parsnips; the chewy, tart apricots; and the crunchy almonds. The cilantro and the yogurt provided fresh contrasts to the couscous' mild warmth, and the chunks of carrot and zucchini made for a colorful presentation.
It's a good thing I liked the pilaf, too. Because while the recipe says it serves only four, there was easily food for six. Oh, well. There are far worse things in life than leftovers.
About the author: Lucy Baker is a graduate student in the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Before returning to school to pursue an MFA, she was an assistant cookbook editor at HarperCollins. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently obsessed with all things fennel.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 parsnip, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow squash, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
- 1 zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 caraway seeds (optional, as I discovered)
- 1 1/2 cups couscous
- 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
- 1/2 cup roasted salted almonds, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Plain yogurt, for serving
In a large pot or deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the carrot and parsnip and cook over high heat for five minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned in spots. Add the yellow squash, zucchini, onion, and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and caraway (if using) and stir until fragrant. Add the couscous and stir until lightly toasted, about two minutes. Pour in the stock, add the apricots, and season again with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for five minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and stir in the almonds and cilantro. Serve with the yogurt on the side.