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Couscous & Grains with Veggies (optional Chicken or Tofu)

I was asked by a MomMe in mommy and me class this week to share my recipe for the grain and veggie salad I brought to class.

The first thing that you should know about me is that I do not follow recipes.  My mom taught me how to cook from a young age.  She would come home from work and I would sit with her in the kitchen, watching and learning what she was doing, and chatting about our days. 

She taught me that you cannot be afraid to play with spices, and that the worst thing that can happen is that you have to throw something out.  I am including this as a disclaimer that I do not pay perfect attention to measurements for spices, as each time I make something you have to season the dish a little differently. 

Don’t worry if you are a beginner cook or the thought of having to guesstimate spices scares you.  My advice is to err on the side of under-seasoning, as you can always add more.  Also, season as you go.  I season every time I add a new layer, new ingredient to the dish, to get the most flavor and robust taste.

This is a great dish because it takes very little time to prep and cook, can be prepared ahead of time and served cold, and is also healthy.

First find a grain blend you like.  I am using a Mediterranean Couscous blend by Epicurean Specialty, currently at Costco in LA (with the large Israeli-style couscous, orzo, quinoa and chickpeas).  Trader Joe’s also sells another blend I like.  Follow the directions on the package to make the grain/pasta. 

Here is the first secret.  Instead of using water, substitute low-sodium chicken broth.  This will add depth of flavor and make the dish come together when blended with the veggies.  Season the broth with some salt (not too much, broth has a good deal of salt), pepper, garlic powder or minced garlic (or both, I love garlic) and a poultry seasoning.  One I love is from Spice Hunter – Poultry Rub Grill Shaker, but Szeged Chiken Rub and Penzey’s both make ones I like.

Another secret, add dried sliced white onions that you can get from Penzey’s or my favorite, the Spice House.  This is a time savor that is also delicious!

You can use those onions as you sauté the veggies or cut onions.  Sometimes I add both because onions are delicious.  Cut up one bell pepper, two medium sized zuchinnis or yellow straight neck squash, and from here you can add any other veggie you like.  For this recipe I added asparagus, but other ones I like are kale, mushrooms, swiss chard, cauliflower, broccoli, the list goes on.

If you happen to be cooking in the springtime, consider adding some green garlic.  Green garlic is absolutely delicious and makes a dish completely come alive.

Warm up a sauté pan and toss in some extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil, my new love.  Throw in the veggies when the pan is warm on medium heat and sauté until cooked.  Season veggies as they are cooking with salt, pepper, garlic powder (yes, I put it in almost everything I make!), parsley (for color if you have some) and chicken seasoning.  Other spice blends you can play with are the Northwoods Seasoning from Penzey’s that is delicious, paprika and dried shallots.

Add the couscous to the sauté pan and eat or refrigerate.  If you want to add a protein, you can add tofu or even better, buy a rotisserie chicken at Costco.  Why do I recommend Costco?  Their chicken is double the size of any supermarket one I have seen, costs less and are usually incredibly juicey.  Tear the meat off the bones when you come home and place it in a Tupperware container.  You can add this to the veggies when they are almost done cooking to re-heat.

One note: if your coucous and veggie blend is dry, you can always add some extra broth.  I sometimes add a little broth to the veggies as they cook for flavor and to keep them moist.  And as always, play with this recipe and add you own spice, veggie and protein variations to create a dish your family will love!

Second note: if your blend contains chickpeas, they can take a little while longer to cook than the rest of the blend.  Don’t worry, the couscous and orzo will taste fine, but you don’t want super crunchy chickpeas in your meal!

Shopping List:

- Couscous/grains blend

- Chicken Broth

- Bell Peppers

- Onions

- Zuchinni or Squash

- Asparagus or other veggies

- Rotisserie Chicken or Tofu (if you want)