Right here, on the little bit I wrote regarding my blog’s second anniversary, I talked about how I discovered fennel through making a recipe out of a magazine. It’s true. I’ve come to love fennel as a result of stepping out and being willing to give it a try.
There have been a lot of other foods that these food magazines have encouraged and challenged me to try; sometimes with mixed results. Orzo. How odd (and fun) to eat a pasta that feels like rice. Butternut squash. To date, this isn’t a vegetable I’d reach for on purpose, but I’ve only tried (and not liked) it in soup. There’s a recipe from Mark Bittman in Cooking Light that I might give a stab at. We’ll see.
I took another step and tried something new today. This was a couscous step. It’s been a seasonably cold couple of days. Waking temperatures have hovered in the low 20′s and I’ve had to add hot water to the chicken’s dish so they’d be able to drink before a skim of ice formed. For me, cold weather is soup weather.
I enjoy a good bowl of soup. EatingWell has a couple of soups this month, so I opted for the Couscous Paella Soup since I also love paella. The only question mark was the couscous.
As with many good soups, the flavor gets developed with the aid of veggies. In this case, it includes red bell pepper, onion and garlic (with a little pepperoni thrown in). These four items get sauteed in olive oil until just soft. The ingredient list actually calls for chorizo, but allows for the use of pepperoni instead if you’re willing to add a pinch of smoked paprika with the substitution. I had the pepperoni from the pizza chicken, so I used that.
Add the chicken, chicken broth, peas, saffron, salt and pepper. Let it boil, then reduce the temperature and cook the couscous in a separate saucepan while the soup simmers. That’s all there is to it.
The soup is served by putting a mount of couscous down and ladling the soup around it.
Unfortunately (isn’t that word a bad one with which to see a review sentence start!), neither Hubby or I cared for this. After two bites Hubby said it was bland and didn’t eat anymore. I felt the same way. It was very basic broth with a few vegetables in it. Nothing to set it apart; definitely nothing to make me think I was having anything remotely similar to paella.
I also discovered that I don’t much care for couscous. In truth, there aren’t many small grains that I do like; bulghar, polenta, grits, no thanks. It’s a mouth-feel thing for me. But I don’t allow them to cause me to dislike a dish. It wasn’t the couscous was what bothered us. It was the lack of any ‘pow’ to the dish. For us, it was bland and uninteresting.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
This should really be titled, ‘What I Did Different Next Time,’ because I didn’t want to waste the rest of the soup. Since it was served separately than the couscous (which the chickens loved, by the way), I decided to add a bit more authentic paellaness to what was there and served it up. For spicing, I upped the smoked paprika to about a half teaspoon. I also added garlic powder, salt and pepper. I threw in a can of kidney beans, another of diced tomatoes and two cups of uncooked rice. Once the liquid had been absorbed by the rice and the beans were tender, we sat down to eat. It was much, much better. All three of us ate our meal (Dudette did do her negotiating for less as per usual) and enjoyed it.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup finely diced Spanish chorizo or pepperoni (add a pinch of smoked paprika if using the pepperoni)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces chicken tenders, diced
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Larch pinch of saffron (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup water
2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion, chorizo (or pepperoni) and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add chicken, broth, peas, saffron (if using), salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in couscous, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
To serve, mound about 1/2 cup couscous in each of 4 wide, shallow bowls. Ladle the soup around the couscous and sprinkle with cilantro, if using.
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