The Side Dish Solution
I’m so embarrassed to admit this to you. How can I possibly have such a huge problem? Me! The person who:
- keeps a copy of Fine Cooking Magazine in the car to read at red lights;
- has friends calling to ask if homemade corn dogs should be frozen before or after cooking;
- comes back from a holiday in Switzerland jabbering non-stop about röschti and raclette only to go completely silent when asked about the mountains.
- has a freaking food blog, for crying out loud!
But honestly, it is me who has this problem: I can never figure out what to make for dinner.
I pace around the produce section with a lonely pack of chicken breasts in my cart at least 10 times a month. And it’s not a million meals that I’m mentally sorting through. I’m honestly trying to come up with just one, which is nearly impossible when there’s a voice in my head yelling, “Quick! Think of something:
- that both you and the hubs will like and J might actually eat!
- that involves lots of vegetables and grains!
- that can be prepared quickly!
- that uses some of what you have at home!
- and do it RIGHT NOW!”
What’s a mom to do?
Lately when I sit down to make a list or when I’m stranded in front of the broccoli with those poor chicken breasts, I have a new way of tackling the problem.
The Side Dish Solution
Instead of trying to come up with an idea for a full meal I just come up with one idea for one interesting side dish.
The theory: If there’s one good and unboring side dish, then the rest of the meal can be simple and even uninspired without causing the whole dinner to be a flop.
I swear. This totally works. Watch this:
Compare Baked Chicken Breasts with Green Beans and Rice
Baked Chicken Breasts with Green Beans and Couscous with Chorizo, Thyme and a Spritz of Lemon
See! I told you it works. And not just with words either; it works when you start chewing as well. That one interesting side dish completely transforms an otherwise boring meal.
For the best results, use the ratio of couscous to liquid specified on your couscous package directions. Here the ratio is 1 cup couscous to 1 and 1/4 cups liquid (i.e., the chicken broth).
Serves 4 as a Side Dish
- 3 tsp olive oil, divided
- 1/2 small onion, chopped finely
- 3 ounces chorizo, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme, please not the powdered stuff. The stuff that looks like dried bits of leaf is much better)
- 1 and 1/4 cups chicken broth
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup couscous (Plain couscous. Not Israeli Couscous or Whole Wheat Couscous as these require more cooking time than specified in this recipe)
- 1 lemon cut into 4 wedges
- Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Spatter in the onion and the chorizo. Cook until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and the thyme. Cook for 30 seconds.
- Pour in the broth and add the salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous. Stir. Cover and remove from heat. Ignore it for 5 minutes.
- Use a fork to tease out all the fluffs of grain. Drizzle in the the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Fluff it up some more.
- Serve with the lemon wedges so everyone can squeeze juice over their couscous before eating. Note that these lemon wedges are NOT optional. That spritz of fresh lemon juice added right at the end will brighten up your whole dinner, which is the point of this spectacular side dish after all.