Not two days ago, here in Chicago, it was 37 motherf*cking degrees outside. Snow showers. ON APRIL 22ND. Understand – I’m fond of winter. I LIKE snow. But at this point in the year, with Memorial Day so close, it’s the kind of weather that makes you wanna kick the elderly and throw trash cans through storefront windows.
It finally got warm today. And it looks like the four-and-a-half month stretch of temperate weather Mother Nature allots to Chicago for the year may finally start soon – and with it comes the kind of locally grown produce that makes food nerds hold Trapper Keepers in front of their pants between classes.
I’m not gonna talk about locavorism today, since I’m saving a whole mess of posts about that kind of stuff (and Sunday Dinner awesomeness) until we get a little closer to May 6th, when the outdoor venue for Green City Market opens. But if you’re like me – whatever your position on produce – no matter how it’s grown or how it gets to you – when the warm weather hits, you want some real vegetables on your plate.
Enter the Couscous.
Mark Bittman from the NYT wrote about Patricia Wells’ pimpaliciousness in a 2007 article, and included several recipes from her “Vegetable Harvest” cookbook. The following is an adaptation of one of those recipes, one that I’ve made many times. I think you’ll find it oniony, creamy, garlicky and satisfying (and, except for the cream, surprisingly healthy for something coming out of my kitchen.) It’s also a pretty quick build – the whole shebang shouldn’t take more than half an hour and can be mostly made in advance – which will leave you plenty of time to make out, should you choose to serve it as part of a dinner date – though you should make sure both of you eat enough so that one of you doesn’t asphyxiate the other. Lotta onions. Just sayin’.
Couscous and Spinach Salad
1 cup-ish of medium-grain instant couscous (Near East makes a box of plain instant stuff that does the trick – it’s 10 oz and much more than a cup – use the whole box.)
A lot of fine sea salt
3 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons (or more) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves
a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6 spring onions or scallions (or green garlic if you can find it. Hells yes Liz Lemon, use green garlic) trimmed and cut into very thin rings
3 tablespoons creamy lemon-chive dressing (see following recipe), or as needed (you’ll definitely need more than 3 tablespoons, but start there and add to taste.)
5 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves, cut into a chiffonade (4 cups, loosely packed)
(I sent the original NYT recipe to my friend Peach Jam while we were IMing the other night.)
Peach Jam: I think I will use the word “chiffonade” in as many sentences as possible tomorrow.
me: Actually – check my blog on Wed. I have some instructions that differ from the ones you see here.
Peach Jam: What the hell? chiffonade?
me: You know how to chiffonade, don’t you?
Peach Jam: I will watch your blog, but am not liking the pretentiousness.
Wasn’t Spinach Chiffonade a character in Strawberry Shortcake?
I think you could scratch her head and she smelled like Joy dish detergent.
me: They relaunched that toy line, you know.
Peach Jam: Much to my dismay.
me: Except all the dolls have tiny little blood sugar meters now.
Peach Jam: i thought it was insulin injectors.
me: That’s just Blueberry Muffin. Living in Strawberry Shortcake’s shadow turned her into a stress eater.
Combine couscous and 1 teaspoon of salt in big bowl. Toss with fork to blend. Add 1 1/3 cups of hottest possible tap water, and fluff until grains are separated. Set aside and occasionally fluff until all liquid has been absorbed, about 3 minutes. Partially cover only if you plan on watching two episodes of “Lost” between this and the following steps. Otherwise, just set aside.
Saute minced garlic in a small pan until brown.
Combine lemon juice, parsley leaves, garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender (if you don’t have either, just chop the hell out of it and combine with a fork or whisk.) Process until parsley is finely chopped, then toss with couscous and spring onions. (May be prepared and refrigerated for up to 8 hours.)
To serve, toss spinach chiffonade with just enough dressing to evenly coat (or just dump the whole 1 1/4 cup in as you tell yourself: Hey man, it’s cream, but it’s also a lot of healthy, healthy vegetables, right? Spinach. Yeah, Spinach! That means I can add MORE cream.) Add to couscous mixture and toss gently until blended.
When kept cold and covered, this stuff will keep for awhile. It tastes even better the second day.
Yield: I’d say 10 side-servings, 6 main dish servings.
Creamy Lemon-Chive Dressing
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
a fair amount of sea salt
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
at least 1/2 cup finely minced chives, more if you like chives (which I do, and you should, too.)
freshly ground black pepper
Put lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt in small jar, cover and shake to dissolve salt.
Add cream and chives. Shake to blend. Add pepper and more salt to taste. Store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Shake to blend before using.
(Note: you will need more salt than you think, though you should consider this is a Korean guy telling you this and every third thing I eat is pickled. Add salt slowly as you go until you get something lemony and salty enough to compete with the herbs and the spinach, yet not so astringent as to make your mouth pucker too much. Feel free to tweak the lemon juice quantity, too. This dressing is pretty remarkable, and punches up grilled chicken nicely.)
Yield: 1 1/4 cups.