Recipe for Health: Make a Fast Midweek Meal

Work has been intense today.
It’s 4 o’clock.
You’re beginning to think about dinner.
Take out pizza – again?
Pasta with canned sauce – again?

No. As hard as the day has been, you need some good food, some comfort food, some healthy food. Here’s a soul-satisfying, tummy-pleasing, easy, fast dinner to rescue and restore you.

As you scan the ingredient list you’ll probably be thinking, “All that chopping, all those ingredients. No way!” I’m here to tell you: Way!

Here’s the secret: Most of the ingredients can be purchased, ready-to-cook, from the salad bar — even the beans. The other ingredients are easy to find. You can probably even pick them up at a quick mart. Chances are you already have most of them on your shelves.

If you’ve never bought couscous, you’ll find it in boxes, shelved with the rice. It’s a great product, requiring only rehydration. Near East brand is a good one. One caveat: couscous usually comes packaged with a seasoning pouch. Toss it. With all the wonderful fresh ingredients the vegetables deliver, you don’t want to douse them with dehydrated parsley and overly salty spice mixtures.

I use pasta bowls to serve this dish because the vegetables are a bit liquid initially. Not to worry; the couscous will absorb the broth, which will flavor it as well.

Warmed whole wheat pita bread is nice on the side. And if you really need comfort and caring have a glass — yes a glass — of mint tea. Brew a cup of your favorite black tea. Pack a small glass with fresh mint leaves. (And I do mean pack.) Place a metal spoon in the glass and pour in the hot tea — the spoon helps dissipate the heat so the glass won’t crack. Moroccans drink their mint tea unbelievably sweet — one teaspoon of sugar does it for me, but you might want to add more. And for dessert, a basketful of clementines is perfect.

Just think of all those vitamins, that fiber and the antioxidants you’re getting. Just imagine all the fat grams you’re not getting. This is a meal that restores and refreshes in a way few other after-work, midweek meals can. Remember it, too, for a weekend night.

Vegetable Couscous

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 medium turnip or cauliflower, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 carrots, diagonally sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 8-ounce can tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans
  • Couscous:
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup instant couscous
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional for garnish

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil, onion and garlic and sauté until tender but not brown. Add turnip, carrots, tomatoes, salt, cumin, crushed pepper flakes and chicken broth. Bring to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender yet firm when tested with a fork. Add zucchini and garbanzo beans; cook until zucchini is just tender, about 10 minutes more.
Meanwhile, prepare couscous: Heat chicken broth and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add couscous. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 15 minutes.

To serve, spoon some couscous on a warm plate, top with vegetables and their broth. Sprinkle with cilantro and garnish with sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrients per serving: 266 calories, 8 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 8 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 454 milligrams sodium.

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