To elevate a side dish, put something on top

 21 Feb 2017 - 20:51

To elevate a side dish, put something on top
Harissa Pearl Couscous With Swiss Chard (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

By Bonnie S Benwick / The Washington Post

We're rethinking garnishes here at #DinnerInMinutes Central. They can provide nutrition, not just colour or crunch.

We have sprinkled spiced ground lamb atop a roasted red pepper soup and added meaty heft to a plate of whipped hummus. Here, a few ounces of protein elevate a smart couscous side dish to main-course status.

The original recipe comes from New York chef-restaurateur Chris Santos's new cookbook, "Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table" (Grand Central). The flavor base for the quick-cooking pearled pasta comes from harissa, the spiced North African chile pepper paste that gives Korean gojuchang a run for its money.

For this recipe, you'll want to reach for a tube or small can of concentrated paste rather than saucier harissas in jars on the grocery store shelf. Stir it into a pan of sauteed shallot and garlic so it can loosen up and caramelize a bit - the same way you might treat tomato paste at the start of an umami-rich sauce.

We chose to garnish the couscous with a judicious portion of smoked whitefish, because it complements the assertive flavors and adds a layer of texture. But leftover roast chicken or warm chickpeas could work as well.

The next time you're inspired to whip up your favorite carbohydrate-enriched side dish, try topping it this way. Your dinner options will expand.

Harissa Pearl Couscous With Swiss Chard

Way to go, chef Chris Santos, for showing us how easy it is to brew deep-spice flavor into this quick-cooking pasta.

Consider the couscous for side-dish duty with chicken or lamb as well - minus the smoked fish.

Serve with roasted carrots.

Adapted from Santos's "Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2017).

2 or 3 servings

Ingredients

1 large shallot

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 teaspoons harissa paste

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) dried pearl couscous

2 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth

One 3-inch sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

1 bay leaf

3 or 4 stems (3 ounces total) Swiss chard leaves (may substitute baby spinach)

2 to 3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini

Sweet paprika or Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), for serving

4 ounces smoked whitefish or smoked trout, for serving (optional)

Method

Finely chop the shallot to yield 3 tablespoons. Mince the garlic.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan or saute pan over medium heat. Stir in the shallot and garlic; cook for about 2 minutes, until they have softened.

Stir in the harissa paste; cook for about 1 minute or until it smells almost toasty-fragrant. Add the couscous, stirring to coat, then add the broth, rosemary sprig, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the bay leaf. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover tightly and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the couscous is tender and has absorbed just about all the liquid. Remove from the heat.

While the couscous is cooking, de-stem the Swiss chard leaves, then stack and roll them and cut them into ribbons.

Uncover the pan; stir them into the couscous a handful at a time, allowing them to wilt slightly before adding more. Discard the bay leaf and rosemary sprig. Stir in the tahini (to taste) until well incorporated. Taste, and add more salt as needed.

Divide among individual bowls. Sprinkle with paprika. If desired, flake the smoked whitefish or trout over each portion. Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 3): 370 calories, 11 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

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