Another day, another “x ingredient global shortage” or “why is x so expensive” google search, and although being unable to find bulgur wheat is hardly cause for sympathy, the increasingly combative nature of supermarkets has become, little by little, folded into my cooking process. Make a shopping list, search for missing items on the shelves, weigh up your commitment to the audaciously priced cabbage or garlic or whatever mundane ingredient you dared to hope for this week, regroup your plans, and so on and so forth. Not that I’m much of a planner, mind you, it’s more that I leap from fixation to fixation on a single recipe, in this case a bulgur wheat pilaff from Deborah Madison’s book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and I’m damned if I can find any bulgur wheat. But I also can’t shake this fixation. So I regrouped.
Couscous lacks the granular heft of bulgur wheat but it does have the advantage of literally existing in my supermarket. As a last-minute understudy in the recipe it worked, deliciously so, although you have to bear in mind that this is a very soft, almost porridge-like rendering of couscous, each grain waterlogged with stock-infused tomato juice, but I see that softness as an asset rather than something to apologise for (at least, I don’t have any other option since that’s just how the texture is.)
Despite its humble ingredients — a can of tomatoes, a stock cube — the finished dish is somehow rich and layered in flavour, aided by a garnishy flourish of coriander and crunchy toasted peanuts. The peanut and the tomato are an underrated couple, with the former’s uncomplicated nuttiness and the latter’s acid sweetness blending beautifully. Coriander adds a lively pop of freshness, but for the inevitable haters a scattering of basil or parsley would work fine instead. This dish is soft, speedy, satisfying and — if you’ll permit me one more alliteration — a swiftly soothing balm, the kind of food that you want to eat from a knotted up position on the couch when it’s raining outside (or in your heart). But then to me, anything with cinnamon is instantly comforting.
Tomato Couscous with Cinnamon, Peanuts, and Coriander
Fast, comforting, cheap, delicious. I adapted this from a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison.
- 1 red onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1 mushroom stock cube, or flavour of your choice
- 1 cup couscous
- 1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 cup/250ml water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons raw peanuts
- small bunch coriander
1: Peel and roughly dice the red onion. Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan, and saute the onions, and the crumbled stock cube, over a low heat. (The first time I made this I added the stock cube with the water, but I find it’s easier to disperse it this way.) Keep stirring until the onions have softened but not browned, which shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
2: Tip in the couscous, stirring it into the onions, then add the can of tomatoes, 250ml water, and the teaspoon of cinnamon. Give it a stir, let it come to the boil, and once it does, clamp on the lid, turn off the heat, and let it sit undisturbed for five minutes, in which time the couscous grains will absorb all the liquid.
3: Meanwhile, roughly chop the peanuts and toast them in a dry pan until they’re just golden brown and fragrant. You could also chop or tear up the coriander and have that ready for serving. Once your five minutes is up, remove the lid from the pan, carefully stir the couscous with a fork — it’ll be more soft and porridgy than light and fluffy — then divide it between two bowls, pour over more olive oil, and scatter over the peanuts and coriander.
Serves two, although I made it just for myself, and can report that it reheats well in the microwave and tastes oddly great cold from the fridge.
Notes: If you can get hold of bulgur wheat, instead of turning the heat off when the liquid comes the the boil, lower the temperature and let it simmer for ten to fifteen minutes with the lid on. You can also use a regular onion instead of a red one.
Cowboys by Sad Lovers and Giants, love post-punk, love the way those guitars tumble and scatter at the start of the song like grains of couscous cascading into a pan of sauteed onions!
Licking Cream by Sevendust featuring Skin, extremely a time capsule but still so timelessly sublime, their voices are riveting together and apart, just the power of her verse alone makes me want to lie down with a cold compress draped over my eyes.
Could We Start Again Please, by Margaret Urlich and Tim Beveridge, from the 1994 New Zealand cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. I was heartbroken to learn of Margaret Urlich’s death last week, her voice is so beautiful — like falling pieces of silver — and I have no words to express how much her performance of Mary Magdalene meant to me, and affected me, as a kid. RIP.
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