Cook the Story

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 

with

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.

Couscous with Chorizo, Thyme and a Spritz of Lemon

Printer-friendly version of this recipe

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

  1. 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.
  2. Add the garlic and the thyme. Cook for 30 seconds.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

 

Comments
10 Responses to “The Side Dish Solution”
  1. The Mrs says:

    This is a fantastic idea. Fantastic. Also: it lets me build around all those yummy side dish recipes I never get to in Food & Wine.
    The Mrs recently posted: In My Absence, WilliamB Plays Tag

  2. Angela says:

    OK, just LO freaking L!!! “…comes back from a holiday in Switzerland jabbering non-stop about röschti and raclette only to go completely silent when asked about the mountains.”
    Angela recently posted: Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling Pairing Dinner

    • Christine says:

      It is so sadly very true. We walked and we ate and we ate and we ate (even at a Michelin Star restaurant one night – so amazing). But we never really got near the mountains or did any of the tours that took you up. We did go on a boat tour one day, but we chose it because it featured lunch at a nice little restaurant we wanted to try anyhow!

  3. Paula says:

    Coming up with a new idea for a side dish instead of the entire meal is a great idea. New, appetizing and creative dinner ideas must be the bane of everyone. My husband and I seem to always look at each other while having our morning coffee and say *So, what would you like for dinner?* Between the two of us, we do eventually decide on what to cook but it can present challenges to keep it fresh. Not the meal itself, the idea of what to serve. We discussed at one point about doing a meal plan but nixed it as I too feel it just added more stress and I don’t like the idea of having to stick to a meal plan.

    Your Couscous looks wonderful…thanks for the idea :)
    Paula recently posted: Ottawa Senators – More Than Just Great Hockey Players

    • Christine says:

      So happy you like the idea of The Side Dish Solution and of this couscous recipe. As to you and your husband deciding together what to make, I think if we did that it would be even harder to come up with something. We do discuss it on the weekends sometimes. But when we do, we seem to both be in the mood for completely different things, making it even harder to decide.

  4. Katie says:

    Just because we are food bloggers doesn’t mean we always have to know what to cook. Every other month or so I definitely go into a cooking rut and don’t want to cook for a week or two… I’m just drained from cooking. I think its natural! I love this new series and can’t wait to try all of these new side dishes. Unfortunately, Jon thinks couscous tastes like sand granules. Maybe I’ll give this couscous dish a try and hopefully the meatiness will trick him!
    Katie recently posted: Central Florida Food Blogger Bake Sale 2012

    • Christine says:

      Thanks Katie! I figured I wasn’t alone with my cooking slumps. Glad to hear you get that feeling too. I think the meatiness could trick Jon. OR, you could try it with Israeli couscous, which is more like little balls of pasta. You’d just have to adjust the cooking to according to the package directions. Or you could always just use rice.

  5. Hi Christine, I can totally relate to what you experience. Love the idea of a great side dish to go with an otherwise uninspiring dish :) Will actually try your Couscous with Chorizo, Thyme and a Spritz of Lemon tonight!
    Natascha Kessler recently posted: Minted Blood Orange Pomegranate Punch

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