Last night I made a pantry supper that turned out so good I must share it with you. Sometimes pantry suppers turn out to be the best meals. I’m talking about those times when you really want to go to the grocery store but just can’t make it happen. You’re left staring in the cupboard/fridge/freezer wondering what to make for dinner. Your family is starving and the pressure is on. Then, magic happens! For me, it’s a cascade of ideas. One ingredient catches my eye and inspires my direction. I putter around the kitchen, pulling out pans and rifling through the spice jars. As my plan starts to come together I relax, put on some tunes and pour a glass of wine. Time to get cookin’!
Last night I started with whole wheat couscous. I thought it would be good to experiment with the grain and had no intention of the meal being on the blog. The husband was hungry and I knew couscous would cook faster than pasta or rice. Rather than cook the couscous in water, I decided to defrost some homemade chicken stock in the microwave. A can of diced tomatoes caught my eye and I had the idea to separate the tomatoes from their juices. I would combine the tomato juice with the chicken stock and use it to cook my couscous. The diced tomatoes would be cooked separately with some chard (from my garden) and a can of chickpeas. It’s tempting to use everything but the kitchen sink when cooking from the pantry, but I suggest restraint. Decide on a direction (this meal was admittedly inspired by Italian flavors) and stay focused. In the end I decided to use red pepper flakes and a bunch of fresh herbs, forgoing canned tuna and capers. I think pantry suppers should be simple meals with a few assertive flavors that really elevate the dish. My secret weapon for this meal: preserved lemon.
Back in January I put up homemade preserved Meyer lemons that are really coming into their prime now. You guys need to understand how truly magical and delicious preserved lemons are. First of all, Meyer lemons enjoy their season in winter. The fruit is less sour than regular lemons with a sweetness and floral character that I’m able to appreciate much more in summertime. When you cure lemons in salt it takes several months before they are ready to enjoy. The lemons break down and transform into something really special. It’s funny, when the lemons are ready you discard the seeds and pulp, rinse off the rind and cook with it. You eat the rind, people! Crazy, but true. My jar of preserved lemons has lasted me many months. It’s nice to have this secret weapon in the fridge, reading to go into action at a moment’s notice. For last night’s pantry couscous I chopped the preserved lemon peel and used it as a garnish just upon serving supper. The salty, floral lemon flavor brought my pantry couscous to a whole new level. Oh yes it did. Preserved lemons: a pantry must-have, in my opinion.
Picture this recipe in 2 stages: cooking the couscous and separately sautéing the chard, tomatoes, and chickpeas. In the end everything is combined. Garnish with preserved lemon and have sour cream at the table. Serves 2 as a generous meal or 4 as a side dish.
1 clove garlic, minced plus 1 clove garlic crushed
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup homemade chicken stock
1 bay leaf
red pepper flakes
1 bunch chard leaves, chiffonade
1/4 cup water
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 preserved lemon, diced**
Begin by heating a splash of olive oil on medium-low heat in a medium sized pot (later, your couscous and the cooking liquid will go in this pot). Add minced garlic and onion and sautée for a couple of minutes to soften. Drain the tomatoes of their juices. Set the diced tomato aside. Combine the tomato juices with the chicken stock and a bay leaf in a small pot and bring to a boil. Pour the couscous in with the garlic/onion mixture and stir to combine. Take the couscous off the heat and pour the boiling chicken stock mixture over the couscous, cover and let sit 10 minutes until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender.
While the couscous is cooking, heat a sautée pan over low heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sautée 1 clove crushed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes for a minute to infuse the oil with flavor. Toss in chard leaves and heat for a minute then add 1/4 cup water, diced tomatoes and chickpeas. Sprinkle the thyme and oregano over the mixture, season with salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes until the greens are tender and ingredients are warmed through.
Once the couscous has absorbed the liquid and finished cooking give it a toss with a fork to fluff it up. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper then scoop it into bowls. Ladle the chard/tomato/chickpea mixture over the couscous. Garnish with diced preserved lemon rind. Serve with sour cream.