21 September 2007

Couscous on the Loose

Domestic is not a dirty word. Or maybe I just don't want it to be because today I found myself barefoot, in a dress, cooking in the kitchen without a recipe. When I was a freshman, that would have scared me. Too girly, too tame, too stereotyped. Well, so maybe the dress thing and the barefoot thing are a separate issue. But the cooking thing, that, I think, I was just scared of.

Maybe you're like me. Maybe you think that cooking is reserved for someone older, someone domestic (or even just plain someone female), or maybe you just don't think you have the time, or the money, or the skills. I aim to show you that even a college student can learn to cook, and I'm going to start by teaching myself.

Now, you college students. Yes, you. I know that you like prepackaged. I know that you like junk food. I know that you like, let's call it, "thrifty buys" (now, now, it's true, isn't it?). I know this, because I am just like you. Now it's time to take it a step further. Everyone can cook spaghetti. (And ramen, and Mac & cheese, and hamburger helper…) So let's just skip to the next step: real cooking.

Welcome to College Cooking 102. We're going to get beyond the basics (and try our hands at spicing them up, too). I'm going to warn you now, this dish requires a little bit of multitasking. If you are a true beginner, do not attempt this alone. Rope your roommate into helping (or your best friend, or your significant other, or whoever happens to be wandering past your door at the time). The serving size is for two anyway, and you might as well make whoever's freeloading off of you help. This is always extra fun in dorm rooms that would fit whole with room to spare in your closet at home. If you are going to make this by yourself and make leftover (and this makes wonderful leftovers, btw) just make sure to do all the prep work before you start. This means cutting the vegetables, measuring the ingredients, and mixing the spices into the milk.

The great thing about this recipe is that most of these ingredients can be found (and stolen out of) your standard college salad bar. If your college doesn't have a salad bar, then I am very, very sorry for you. What do you do on nights when absolutely nothing is edible and you've already swiped your card? Which, being the nature of a college, once your card has been swiped there is NO TURNING BACK. No, the computers at a college are completely incapable of undoing a swipe or re-crediting a meal account. I hope that I am not the only one to whom this makes NO LOGICAL SENSE. Anyway.

It makes me feel very ninja to sneak things out of the dining hall once I've already eaten. My college has this other utterly moronic rule of not being allowed to take out any food once you've already begun with the intention of eating in. So say, for instance, the jock next to you suddenly starts puking up his Coke, pizza, fries, and hamburger, and you find this incredibly unappetizing and wish, on second thought, to take your meal with you while you try to get back something resembling an appetite… the dining hall would rather you put your whole tray of steaming, lovely food in the trash than take it home with you to eat later. Apparently this rule is enforced to keep people from eating a whole meal and then also taking out a whole meal. But under its tyranny, all suffer.

Moving back on topic. Which is that sneaking food out of the dining hall has become the game that everyone loves to play. I heard of a girl who once snuck out grapefruits in her pants. Others I know have carried out paper coffee cups of milk, in multiples of six. But the reason why you should be interested in everything I've just said is that with a little planning, and a little cunning, you can use your dining hall's salad bar like a grocery store. In fact, almost everything can be "bought" at this particular grocery store if you remember to bring you backpack (or your pants with super-large pockets).

I've made a note of that below, so don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. The spices you will have to buy, and the couscous. But spices are awesomeness and couscous is relatively easy to make and goes with lots of foods, so these are good purchases even for the thriftiest breed of college student.

Couscous on the

Things you can pilfer from the salad bar:

1 red bell pepper (or one cup red bell pepper slices)

1 cup milk

1 cup button mushrooms

½ cup shredded mild white cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon butter (in a pinch. But you should probably buy your own if you plan on cooking in the future)

Things you will probably need to buy:

5 stalks green onion

1 sm yellow onion (although, if you want to substitute this for onions, they could be found on the salad bar, too. In which case you'd need about ¾ - 1 cup)

1 cup couscous (in my dish, I used tri-colored couscous, but any kind will do)

2 cloves garlic

¼ teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons curry powder (the milder yellow Indian curry powder. Not the red madras stuff, which is like the super-spice of all super-spicy spices.)

¼ teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Slice the yellow onion and simmer in oil over medium heat.
  2. While the onion is starting, cut up the mushrooms, red pepper, and green onion. When the yellow onion is starting to go limp, add the mushrooms.

    If you want to save yourself trouble, go ahead and do all these preparation steps ahead of time. The reason why I have them separated here is to give you something to do while the onion takes its good old time getting done.

  3. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk. Mix in the butter, salt, curry powder, and chili powder. Bring to a boil.
  4. When the mushrooms begin to change color from white to a light brown (1-2 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and the amount of heat), add the red pepper.
  5. When the water boils, mix in the couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let this sit for five minutes.

    At this point you may be freaking out about the multi-tasking thing. Don't be, it's really going to be okay. You can now ignore the couscous until the timer goes off. In fact, please ignore it; opening the lid at this point may alter its consistency. More on that later.

  6. When the red pepper starts to look limp, add in the green onion and pressed garlic. Stir and cook for an additional minute, then remove the vegetables from heat.
  7. After the couscous has cooled for five minutes, fluff with a fork.

    Do not be fooled! When the couscous is ready to be fluffed it is usually the consistency of polenta made with superglue. Well, at least it feels that way. This is the fun part. A.k.a. the part you fob off onto your helper. Helper (or cook) roll up your sleeves and use those biceps!

  8. Arrange on plate and sprinkle cheese on top. To melt the cheese: microwave for 30-40 seconds.



Anonymous said...

Wow, that looks really good. I'd still rather eat in the dinning hall, but maybe if I had a guest or something.

Emma said...

It was delicious! I love being test subject #2. Dining hall food has its good days, but man, it's nice to have occasional supreme control of what I ingest.

AJ Star said...

oh my goodness this is so intense!!! i am sad i don't live in a dorm anymore. i am still tempted to do all of this stuff, but it would require breaking into the dining hall...

Rory Carlin said...

I can absolutely relate to sneaking food from the Dining hall. It's exhilarating.