Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash, Dried Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts

I first encountered Israeli couscous at a local Whole Foods in the prepared food gallery. In fact that same discovery was the inspiration for this dish. In the prepared foods case was a large bowl with a colorful array on orange, red, brown and green against a canvas of the white couscous.

This makes a great buffet item as it is tasty warm, cool or room temperature. It lends itself to infinite variations as well. Here is one of my favorites.

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash, Dried Cranberries and Toasted Walnuts
Servings: 10-12
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 2-pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 x 8.8 oz. packages of Israeli couscous
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Line a half-sheet pan with a Silpat or sheet of parchment.
  2. In a bowl toss squash with 2 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tsp. salt and black pepper. and spread in 1 layer. Spread on sheet pan into a single layer. Roast in upper third of oven 20 minutes, or until squash is just tender. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. While the squash cooks heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cook until tender. Golden brown is OK here. Add to the bowl with the squash.
  4. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt, return to a boil and add the couscous along with the cinnamon sticks. Cook for ~10 minutes, until the couscous is tender. Drain, shake to remove excess water and add to the bowl with the squash. Remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them.
  5. Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, walnuts, dried cranberries to the bowl along with the last tablespoon of olive oil. Toss well to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Notes:
Most of the prep time here is in peeling and cubing the squash. I prefer to peel the squash with a chef’s knife. A sturdy U-shaped vegetable peeler will also work.

While there are several components to this dish, much of the cooking can be done at the same time. For example, the squash can roast while the onion cooks and pasta boils.

You can make this dish in advance, store it overnight and serve cold, room temperature or reheated in the microwave.

Gnocchi with Swiss Chard and Beans

Weeknight meals can be tough. We both work and arrive home in varying states of tired, grumpy and whiny. An easy to prep, easy to cook recipe goes a long way to making dinner the start of a good evening.

Gnocchi with Swiss Chard and Beans

The recipe is based heavily on Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans. I modified it to fit what we had in the house, added some much needed additional flavoring and wrote it up in my own words.
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Potato and Corn Patties

I grew up in a family that always ate leftovers. At least one meal a week was based on the leftovers from Sunday dinner. Roast beef became beef stew. Grilled chicken became chicken salad sandwiches. When I visit my mom I often end up with a meal of odds and ends from the week. A little of this, a little of that, makes a tasty meal.

In cooking our big weekly dinners there are often leftovers. Frequently they become lunch and save me from the corporate cafeteria. Sometimes though I decide to work them into a weeknight meal. This past weekend we had mashed potatoes and a variation on sauteed corn with leeks. A few ingredients, a hot skillet and tasty side was born to go along with chicken breast.

Potato and Corn Patties
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Roasted Pepper and Lentil Soup

The farm stand near where I work has had some great peppers this year. In addition to the usual green and red ones there are this yellow-purple variety of bell pepper that has been fantastic. As the growing season winds down I wanted something to celebrate the taste of the pepper.

The resulting soup as quite thick and surprisingly creamy. My husband looked at me and said it was the lentils. Whatever it was I’m happy with the result.

Roasted Pepper and Lentil Soup
Servings: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 large bell peppers (preferably not green)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Fuji apple, peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 heaping tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground paprika
  • 3/4 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Rinse and pat dry the peppers. Roast them over the flame of a gas stove, on the grill or in your oven under the broiler until the skin is thoroughly blackened. Transfer charred peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove the charred skin, remove the top and seeds and roughly chop the peppers.
  2. Add the oil to a sauce pan and heat over medium. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, toss to combine. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onions begin to turn translucent.
  3. Add the apples, garlic, spices and several grinds of pepper. Stir to distribute the spices. Add the lentils and the water. Stir again, scraping any lentils that try to climb up the side of the pan back into the water.
  4. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes. Check the lentils after 15 minutes. If they are soft to the tooth then continue to the next step; if not cook at bit longer until soft.
  5. Transfer about 1/2 of the soup into a blender and puree on high for about 2 minutes (see note). Place the pureed soup in a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining soup.
  6. Taste the pureed soup for salt and pepper; adjust as necessary. Serve up with toasted bread or some crackers.

Notes:
When using the blender on hot food it is important to provide the steam and pressure a way out of the carafe. If you don’t the top is likely to pop off your blender and your soup will decorate your walls. Our blender has a clear knob in the center of the cover that can be removed to pour liquid into the running blender. I remove the knob whenever I’m going to blend soup or other hot food. To keep the soup in the blender I fold a clean towel into a square and hold it over the hole in the cover.

My husband thought that the soup could have used a bit of texture. Some chopped green tomatoes would have been a nice addition; I didn’t think of it until after we were eating.

Looking back I noticed I made a red pepper soup last year. This one was more savory than the previous one. This one also has no dairy.