Pearl couscous salad with paprika and mint dressing

We’re back to school, lovelies! And what a back-to-school dramaturgy it’s been. We’ve been having a record-breaking heatwave here in southern California, no joke, temperatures reached 100+ with nasty Santa Ana winds (the equivalent of the Delhi ‘loo’) blasting in from the desert.

This salad has been a lifesaver in this unseasonably hot weather. Not only does it keep well in the fridge for days (making a most delicious lunch indeed), but it is easy, quick, cooling, and manages to strike that magic balance between being both light and filling (perfect for teaching days). Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients – almost everything is replaceable and substitutable – you can replace the couscous with quinoa or another grain, you can replace the chickpeas with white or kidney beans, and you can replace the mint with basil or parsley. Etc. Etc. Etc. Whatever you’ve got lying around, I promise it will work. The toasted almonds add such a nice crunch and depth of flavor, you really do need the crunch, so if you have to substitute them, use something crunchy!

You get a hint of cinnamon and smokiness from the bay leaf in the couscous, which adds that subtle vacation-y feeling to this. So we can pretend like summer’s not really over.

Bon appetit!

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dressing

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 as generous lunch portions, or 4 as a side

Ingredients

2 cups pearl couscous (sometimes called “Israeli couscous”)

1 15 oz. can (about 430 gms) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 stick cinnamon

2 small or 1 large bay leaf

1/2 cup black olives, halved

2 cups cherry/grape/heirloom tomatoes, halved

4 small Persian cucumbers, chopped

4 cups boiling water

3/4 cup slivered or chopped almonds, lightly toasted

3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (or any cheese you like, or omit if going vegan)

For the dressing:

4 sprigs of mint, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. paprika

2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar is fine too)

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Dry roast the couscous in a saucepan until the pearls start browning, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. To the couscous, add 4 cups of boiling water (double the amount of couscous you are using), the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, onion and a pinch of salt. When it starts to boil, lower the heat, put on a lid, and cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, assemble your other ingredients: chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.
  4. In another small pan, toast your almond slivers and set aside.
  5. Prepare the dressing.
  6. When the water from the couscous has evaporated and the pearls have puffed up, set aside and let the mixture cool down for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves carefully. Lightly fluff the couscous with a fork.
  7. Add the dressing. Gently combine everything with a fork.
  8. Sprinkle the cheese and toasted almonds on top. Serve!

Note: if you will be eating this as leftovers, don’t add all the almonds now – just add them to your own bowl. Save the rest and add them just when you are about to eat so they stay crunchy.

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Nani paneer (paneer with half moons)

onion11The name of this recipe is not a poor translation, but is my way of making the original name of this recipe, paneer do pyaza (or “two onion” paneer) sound more appealing. I’m not sure if I succeeded. 

Monikers aside, this is one of my favorite paneer dishes, something my Nani enjoyed, and which I will always associate with lunches in her house.  Although heavy on the onions, this is not a pungent dish.  Rather, the onions are slowly caramelized and intended to impart a sweetness to the dish, which goes very nicely against the black pepper.  I also love the way these onion skins look in this boat shape.  For those of you who hate chopping onions, the shape of the onions here mean very little chopping, and hopefully, few to no tears.  This recipe is delicious with naan, paratha, or roti.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

For the onion half moons:

1 tsp. canola oil

1 yellow onion, cut into quarters (like so), and then each layer of skin removed.

onions1 tsp. sugar

Pinch of salt

For the paneer:

1 tsp. vegetable/canola oil

2 green cardamom pods

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 green chilli, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 roma tomatoes

1 tsp. coriander powder

1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. red chili powder

1 tsp. black pepper (preferably freshly ground)

100 gms (3 oz.) paneer (preferably home made), cut into cubes

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 2 garlic gloves and 1″ ginger, mashed in a mortar and pestle)

1/4 cup warm water

Handful of coriander leaves (for garnish)

Salt to taste

  1. First, start on the onion half moons. Place a saucepan, with 1 tsp. oil, on low heat.  Chop one yellow onion into quarters and remove the skins.  Place the skins into the pan, along with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let the onions soften on low heat.  Shake the pan occasionally to make sure that the skins don’t burn.  Once the onions are softened and gently charred on the edges, turn off the heat (about 10 minutes).onions2
  2. In the meantime, chop 1/2 a yellow onion and one roma tomato. onions3
  3. In another pan, add 1 tsp. oil. and put the pan on medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, and bay leaf.  When the cumin seeds start sizzling, add the green chilli, half the chopped onion, and the ginger-garlic paste.  Add a pinch of salt and cook the onions for about two minutes, until softened. onions6
  4. Add the chopped tomato, along with the spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, black pepper and garam masala).  Stir everything well.  When the mixture starts getting dry, add 1/4 cup warm water and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the spices are well blended.   onions7
  5. Add in the caramelized onions and mix everything together. 
  6. Cut the paneer into cubes and gently fold them into the onion and tomato gravy.  Mix everything well.onion9
  7. Garnish with coriander leaves.

onion10Serve and enjoy!

Moroccan Stew with Butternut Squash and Chickpeas

Despite never having been to Morocco (something I hope to remedy soon!), I love Moroccan food. This stew is warming and hearty on a cold winter day.  Funnily enough, yesterday’s New York Times just featured a similar stew as well, so apparently, I’m not the only one who craves Moroccan food on a cold day.

This vegan stew is wonderful when you want to enjoy complex flavors—but also need something  quick and easy to prepare – my cooking mantra! Often I find that recipes for Moroccan food—at least the ones I have found online—overdo the sweetness, which comes from cinnamon, and often apricots and/or raisins as well, while foregoing other spices.  I prefer the stew to be more balanced, with the sweetness from the cinnamon and apricots balanced against the spicy harissa and red chillies.  However, since this is a one-pot meal, which simmers for a while, only gaining in flavor as it does, feel free to adjust to your own tastes. I love this served with some couscous or quinoa, but it is also perfectly good with any other grains or rice.

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To cook couscous: take 1 cup of couscous (serves 2) and pour 2 cups of boiling water over it. Cover and leave for 15 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork and serve.

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moroccanstew2

Prep. time: 40 minutes

Serves: 2 (with leftovers)

Ingredients

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic

1″ knob ginger

1 stick cinnamon

2 cardamom pods

4 cloves

1-2 dried red chillies

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. harissa

1 tbsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1 tsp. turmeric powder

6 dried apricots, chopped

3 cups warm water

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans or half a cup of dried chickpeas soaked overnight (with draining liquid)

16 oz. butternut squash

1/2 preserved lemon (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful coriander leaves for garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep pan on medium heat.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add the dried red chilli, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom pods.
  3. Once you can smell the aroma of the spices, add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, until the onions have softened.  If the pot gets too dry, add a sprinkling of water.
  4. Add the spices: the cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and harissa.  Saute for another minute, making sure that the spices do not burn (again, add a bit of water if necessary).
  5. Add three cups of warm water and bring to a gentle simmer.
  6. Add the squash and let simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes.  Grate your knob of ginger directly into the pot.
  7. Once the squash is cooked, add your chickpeas and the draining liquid into the pot.  Add the apricots. 
  8. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Adjust spices if necessary.
  9. Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add your preserved lemon, if you like.
  10. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.