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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

For a confirmed meat-eater like myself, everything tastes better with crisp bacon, grilled sausage, or a roasted meat. Michelle's new diet has challenged me to come up with dishes that are as flavorful as she's used to but focus on vegetables.

Experimenting with recipes has sent me searching for ingredients I often over-looked. In our pantry I discovered packages of couscous, dried beans, and polenta, all gifts from the Il Fornaio Passport program.

If you haven't eaten at Il Fornaio, I'd like to recommend the restaurant. We have been regular customers of the Santa Monica Il Fornaio ever since it opened. We appreciate the friendly service, fresh ingredients, well-prepared dishes, and affordable prices. And we enjoy the Passport program and its monthly gifts. When the gifts are ingredients to make at home, Chef Maurizio Mazzon provides easy-to-follow recipes for each.

As an end of summer dish, couscous with grilled vegetables seemed like a perfect dish to make for Michelle. Traditional couscous requires a lengthy cooking process. Il Fornaio provided a quick-cooking couscous, which I recommend. This recipe is indebted to Chef Mazzon.

Grilled Vegetables Couscous

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups couscous (quick-cook style)
1 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olives, cracked green or kalamata (pitted, finely chopped)
1 basket cherry tomatoes (washed, quartered)
1/4 cup capers (chopped)
1 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, washed, finely chopped)
1 ear of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1 carrot (washed, peeled, trimmed, cut into slabs 4"x1/4")
2 garlic cloves (washed, trimmed)
1 ripe avocado (optional)
1 bunch arugula (optional)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Drizzle olive oil onto a flat plate, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, roll the corn on the plate to coat with the seasoned oil. Do the same with the carrot slabs and garlic cloves. Lightly brown on a hot grill or roast in a 350 degree oven for 10-20 minutes, turning to avoid burning. Let cool , finely chop the carrots and garlic. Cut the kernels off the cob.

As Chef Mazzon instructs, boil the water with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. In a non-reactive bowl (stainless steel or glass) mix together the couscous with the salted hot water and 2 tablespoons olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

To the couscous, add the carrots, corn, garlic, parsley, capers, olives, and cherry tomatoes. Add another 7 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt or black pepper. Can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Variations

Add grilled broccoli (treated in the same way as the carrots).

Serve with arugula.

Serve with a sliced avocado.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Fork in the Road: Beet Greens,Tofu, and Brown Rice

I think of my cooking as healthy because I like to cook with farmers' market fresh ingredients, I don't make elaborate sauces, and I'm careful to minimize fat. But I do cook with eggs, cream, red meat, bread, and lots of pasta. My wife, Michelle, enjoys what I cook but she's looking for a bit of a change. She's decided to try a fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, no red meat, non-caffeine, sugar-free diet.

For me, cooking this way will require adjustments. I'll try my best to make meals that have flavor and keep to her diet. This is a little terra incognita to me and it would be nice to have some road maps. If you have any suggestions, please send them in.

Sautéed Beet Greens with Tofu and Brown Rice
Yield: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch farmers' market fresh beets
1 yellow onion (washed, peeled, roughly chopped)
5 garlic cloves (washed, peeled, roughly chopped)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella (washed, roughly chopped)
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
1 pound firm tofu
2 cups cooked brown rice
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Prepare the brown rice first. I use a Japanese rice cooker and the proportion is 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water. Turn on the rice cooker. When the cooker shuts off, fluff the rice, and put the cover back on for 10 minutes.

When you buy the beets, pick out a bunch with fresh looking leaves. To prepare the beets, cut off the beet greens. Clean the beets and reserve to use raw or roasted in a salad.

Soak the greens in water to remove grit. Cut the stems from the leaves. Finely chop the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

On a medium-high flame, heat a large pan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Sauté the beet green stems with the onions and garlic until they are lightly browned, then add the greens and cook until wilted. Stir frequently. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Add 1 cup water to deglaze the pan, reduce the flame and simmer 15 minutes.

Taste the greens to confirm that they are tender. At this moment I would add a pat of butter but that's entirely optional.

Pat dry the tofu and make 1" thick slabs, then cut the slabs into 1"x1" cubes. The tofu needs to be heated. That can be accomplished in a number of ways. Personally I like to lightly sauté tofu to add a bit more flavor. In a frying pan, heat olive oil and lightly brown the tofu pieces. If you'd like to avoid this step, the tofu can be heated in a microwave.

Add the tofu to the beet green sauté and gently toss together to coat the tofu with the sauce. Serve with the brown rice on the side.