Yesterday I accomplished a frightening task: cleaning out the refrigerator. Breakfast and lunch this week meant foraging through a stuffed fridge (of inedible items) only to settle on cashews and yogurt for both meals. It’s pathetic. What’s worse, after throwing away the unidentifiable leftovers and expired jars of peppers/marinara/sauce remains, our fridge officially contained our brita water filter, one bunch of cilantro, three carrots, two spiced fritters from last night, and three bags of assorted nuts. A sad sight.
You can imagine my excitement when I arrived at Trader Joes today, prepared to stock our fridge and cabinets with necessities. In case you’re wondering, here are—what I consider—household staples for healthy, budgeting folk. (Note: we do have a freezer full of other useful items; these aren’t the only ingredients we ever have around…)
- whole wheat pastas
- whole wheat couscous
- frozen fruit
- plain yogurt
- low-sodium chicken broth
- sprouted grain sandwich bread
- cheese & turkey & tomatoes
- raw almonds
- a wedge of parmesan cheese
Then I got home and thought: oh crap, I don’t what I’m making for Dad’s visit tonight and am probably going to have to go out for groceries. You see, I peruse my cookbook collection and salivate over complex recipes with a zillion ingredients I don’t have. Today I was determined to integrate my fresh carrots and cilantro into something delicious—and appease my craving for couscous. I was also in a particular mood for feta.
That’s what search engines are for, right? I typed in “carrots, cilantro, feta” and came across a cold salad with roasted carrots and the other two ingredients tossed into afterwards. Simple enough for my inspired dinner. So here are the makings for a delicious, delicious Moroccan-inspired feast.
(Beyond the marinating, this dish comes together is remarkably short time—unless you’re Lindsey in a crammed little kitchen, puppy-sitting and vacuuming between tasks.)
It’s handy to have a special spice cabinet (check out yesterday’s post) for the makings of easy, interesting dishes. It’s also handy to have chicken in the freezer for last-minute carnivore entertaining.
I was inspired by this marinade from Recipe Zaar, and according to Andrew and Pops, it’s absolutely delicious.
Right into a large freezer bag to hold the chicken drumsticks (I have 6 drumsticks and this quantity worked out well), I combined:
1.5 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1.5 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1.5 tsp. salt, 2 garlic cloves, crushed, 2 tbsp. lemon juice + lemon zest, 2 tbsp. olive oil
You could also add ground cloves and ground ginger, but I didn’t have either. Since I planned this early enough in the day, the chicken marinated for about 5 hours. I’m hardly the chicken expert, but with so many spices, I’d allow for as much marinating time as you can.
I roasted the drumsticks in the oven at 400 F for about 15 minutes, turning once. (Reminder: everything in the oven for this meal is at 400 F for a similar amount of time. Simultaneous baking produces a meal like this in 20 minutes cooking time).
as close as I get to chicken.
ROASTED CARROT and FETA COUSCOUS
I’m pretty proud of this one. Not that I did so much inventing on my own, but I integrated the Moroccan carrot salad idea into a flavorful topping for my whole wheat couscous. I don’t usually purchase whole wheat couscous, as regular semolina is so delicious, but it is incredible. The salty feta cheese (which I adore in a variety of dishes) adds a creamy tangyness to this dish. But before I yap on and on about that, here’s the carrot topping (note that everything is cooked at 400 F, so it can all go in at once):
I had 5 medium carrots, which left me slightly short for 1.5 cups dry couscous. Since we still would up with leftover couscous, 1 cup (dry) is sufficient for three people, and 6 carrots would be ideal.
I peeled the carrots and cut them into 1/2 inch x 2-inch strips. For some reason, my cousin Cassie was very frustrated at this point. Forget the chicken and other exciting ingredients, she was going bonkers over the carrots, which disrupted my prep time…
Cassie curious about carrots
She did eventually give up after I took a hiatus from chopping to give her a 5-minute belly rub.
I think she was so excited because she has this little orange chew toy that looked exactly like a baby carrot.
Spread the carrot pieces (be sure they’re even in size) on a baking sheet, drizzling just enough olive oil over the carrots to make them all glisten. Be careful not to overdo the oil. Typically, I would salt or season anything I’m roasting, however these carrots sweeten so beautifully, and eventually combine with the very salty feta, there’s not need to season. Pepper if you must. They only need about 5-10 minutes in the oven at 400 F, flip them once or twice and really keep an eye on them—remove once they’re golden.
Let the carrots cool completely—you may want to do these first, or even ahead of time if that’s possible. Set the carrots aside until the couscous is done cooking. Into the cooled carrots, toss about 2 tablespoons of fresh minced cilantro, and roughly 2 oz. of crumbled feta (low-fat if you can find it), more or less depending on preference. But why not more?? I would wait to add the feta and cilantro until just before serving, mostly so the feta doesn’t melt into the couscous.
I don’t recall the couscous/liquid ratio for “white” couscous, but for whole wheat couscous it’s exactly even. I added 1.5 cups of dry whole wheat couscous to 1.5 cups boiling low-sodium chicken broth (and a teeny bit of butter). Vegetable broth is fine, too, but try to use low-sodium. You can certainly cook the couscous in water, but the flavor is so ideal that the couscous needs no seasoning after cooking in broth.
If you aren’t familiar with the wonder of couscous, I think you’ll find it’s as comforting and satisfying as pasta—without the heaviness—endlessly versatile, and the perfect grain with a mere 5-minute cooking time. Since this is a very, very quick side dish, start steaming the couscous when the chicken is just a few minutes from completion. Add the carrot/feta/cilantro mixture on top of the couscous.
meanwhile, on the sofa…
This item does not mingle with my last-minute cuisine theme, but I’ve been desperate for an excuse to use the puff pastry in the freezer, and to try these appealing cheese sticks.
You would think after last night , I would avoid that old box grater at all costs. But I wanted a parmesan not so fine as my mircoplane might produce, and more substantial than fully grating with my food processor. This was just the right size for sprinkling on my cheese sticks.
A nutritional tangent before I continue on to these sesame twists. I do not usually find a need to serve bread alongside pasta or couscous or other starchy meals (or perhaps I don’t regularly indulge in fresh artisan breads by budget alone!)—however, because these portions were moderate amounts of whole grains, there seems little need to feel guilty about the bread. Let me clarify that I do not advocate in the least for limiting carbohydrates, but rather for including whole grains in greater quantities than refined grains within a meal. I’m not opposed to combining the two, but white pasta on top of white bread lacks the fiber and energy contribution of whole grain selections.
Enough of my digression, and onto my discovery of the magic grocery-store find known as puff pastry. Again, this is an ingredient I would limit in any diet, as it’s mostly additives, but darn if it’s not delicious and convenient. It makes my small list of exceptions among pre-made foods.
One puff pastry sheet (each box contains two) made six breadsticks. I hate calling them that, lest we develop nostalgic cravings for Pizza Hut. After thawing on the counter (do keep frozen until ready to use), I sliced right along the folds into six strips and brushed with one lightly beaten egg.
Still on the counter, I sprinkled generously with parmesan and sesame seeds. Poppy seeds would be an attractive substitution for sesame seeds, but I didn’t have any—even in my exotic spice cabinet. At this point, still on the counter, twist each strip a few times. You don’t have to be too dainty about it, I was oddly worried about breaking them or something. Once you see for yourself how beautifully they bake, you’ll laugh at yourself for preparing them so carefully. Relocate the twists to a lined baking sheet, and bake about 12 minutes in a 400 F oven. If you haven’t made these little wonders before, you will be amazed at how sophisticated they appear upon retrieval from the oven!
And that’s it, friends! Bring the chicken and sesame twists out of the oven at the same time, fluff the couscous, and sprinkle your roasted carrots on top.
I’m a big fan of color, and I realize my celebratory textiles seem brighter than what may appear to be a bland or starchy meal. But the complex spices of the marinade, and unique combination of carrot and cilantro make these a fragrant platter. And it’s not terribly unhealthy. Like I said, an extra carrot or two would have been ideal—they are remarkably sweet after roasting, I would have loved even more.
And sweet cousin Cassie didn’t get any scraps from the table, despite those adorable eyes.