One busy evening not so long ago, I threw a few ingredients together for a hearty side dish. The results were delicious enough to merit further investigation, and when I tested the recipe again, I realised it was definitely something that could stand on its own as a vegan main dish. The couscous, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and cashews all contain protein as well as fiber, and there is iron in the chickpeas and cashews as well. Of course the vegetables are good for you too, full of antioxidants and vitamins. The fact that everything is fairly lightly cooked makes it even more nutritious, as well as quick and easy to prepare.
Some people might wonder about using peas as well as chickpeas, but the combination of the crisp green vegetable with its softer, firmer counterpart is very pleasing. If you want to bump up the fiber and nutrition, choose a wholegrain or barley couscous, and if you want to make this recipe gluten free, use quinoa instead.
The couscous to liquid ratio is a matter of great debate amongst cooks, and varies from 1:1 to 1:2 or even 2.5 on package directions. After much experimentation and discussion, I am firmly of the opinion that a ratio of 1 cup of couscous to 1½ cups stock is perfect, leaving you with soft grains that still have some texture to them. Couscous is not meant to be gummy – it should be light and fluffy. If you find that couscous still seems too firm for you, just add more stock a bit at a time, allowing it to absorb between additions, until you get a texture that is more pleasing to you.
Alongside a crisp salad, lightly dressed salad, this dish makes a satisfying, nutritious, frugal and comforting main meal.
To serve four people you need
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I use olive)
1 onion (red if possible), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and sliced
(You can use green and/or orange peppers instead or the red and yellow.)
1 – 14 ounce can chickpeas, organic if possible, drained and rinsed
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup cashew nuts, toasted
Chopped flat leaf parsley, dried parsley to garnish
1 cup couscous
1½ cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) so you can toast the cashews.
Place the cashews in an even layer on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven for literally a few minutes – 4 or 5 will normally do it – until they are just beginning to take on a bit of a golden tinge. (Be careful not to over-toast them as it will make them taste bitter.) Remove the cashews from the oven and set aside. Turn off the oven.
In a small saucepan, heat the vegetable stock over low heat until it is nearly boiling.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to become translucent. Grate in the garlic and cook for a few minutes more.
Place the couscous in a large bowl and pour the nearly boiling vegetable stock over top. Cover and set aside.
To the onion and garlic in the frying pan, add the red and yellow pepper, chick peas and frozen peas. Stir fry until the peppers have begun to soften just a bit, but are still crisp, and the peas and chick peas are warm through. This will take about five minutes, by which time the couscous should have absorbed all the stock.
Fluff the couscous with a fork, and add it to the vegetables in the frying pan, along with the cashews. Toss everything lightly together and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, garnished with the parsley.