Last week, I cooked dinner for my friend Rachel and my roommate Adva. Eventually, I want to have a dinner party in my new apartment. But I thought I’d start small, and try a few dishes from a cookbook I recently purchased, “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi.
I first came across Ottolenghi’s recipes on one of my favorite food blogs, Lottie + Doof. The blog featured spinach, date and almond salad from “Jerusalem” cookbook, and I was instantly smitten. The combination of crispy pita bread, spicy sumac and sweet red onions and dates was unlike anything I have ever tasted, and continues to be one of my favorite recipes. I made it for Rachel when I visited D.C. in July, and she said she has made it for some of her friends and family since.
While “Jerusalem” cookbook offers both vegetarian and meat-centric recipes, “Plenty” is completely focused on vegetarian fare. I mainly cook vegetarian at home, and I’ve already dog-eared most of the recipes in the cookbook. For dinner last week, I wanted something that would come together quickly after work, and would be warming on a cold night. When I came across “the ultimate winter couscous,” I knew I had hit recipe gold.
The recipe comes with a long list of ingredients–so a relatively thorough shopping trip is required. I couldn’t find parsnips, so I substituted in extra carrots. Also, you may or may not find all the spices on the ingredient list. I had some trouble finding star anise and saffron, so in the end I just left them out. If you have those spices at your disposal, I’m sure they’d add another dimension to the dish. But even without them, the couscous turned out well.
The roasted butternut squash and carrots gave the dish an earthy flavor, the cinnamon and dried apricots added a touch of sweetness, and the chickpeas were hearty and filling. We spooned the mixture over heaping piles of buttered couscous, and let the sauces soak into the grains. The dish tasted even better the next day for lunch after the spices and sauce had marinated.
I wanted to make a salad with figs, basil, and goat cheese on the side, but a Whole Foods employee informed me that figs were out of season. So I decided to improvise, and made a salad with arugula, pomegranate seeds, crumbled goat cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is from the original recipe, and incorporates Dijon mustard and pomegranate molasses (also a difficult ingredient to find, but it should be available at ethnic or specialty stores).
The best part about dinner wasn’t the food itself, but seeing Rachel and Adva’s reaction as they tried their first bite. To me, there’s no greater satisfaction than the people I care about enjoying something I made. I’m excited to try new recipes from “Plenty” soon, and to host more dinners in D.C.
The Ultimate Winter Couscous (adapted from “Plenty”)
Serves 4, or even more
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
8 shallots, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp chile flakes
2 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 cup canned chickpeas
1 1/2 cups chickpea cooking liquid and/or water
1 cup couscous
1 cup boiling vegetable stock
3 tbsp butter, broken into pieces
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the carrots and shallots in a large ovenproof dish. Add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and all the other spices and mix well. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the butternut squash, stir, and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their cooking liquid and/or water. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until hot.
After 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.
To serve, spoon couscous onto a plate or into a bowl. Spoon the vegetables onto the center of the couscous.
Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from “Plenty”)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
salt and black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
Place the shallot, mustard and pomegranate molasses in a medium bowl. Add some salt and pepper and whisk vigorously as you slowly pour in the olive oil. Aim for a homogenous mixture.