Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CSA week four - radish and beet greens in a faux-paella

I've generally used Israeli couscous as a lazy man's risotto. The little tapioca-like balls have a similar semi-firm bite and make a creamy starch-based sauce close to risotto's. But they do it in just ten minutes without a lot of fuss. This time around, I wanted to do something Iberian instead of Italian with them.

That's mainly because instead of straight Israeli couscous I had this blend I picked up at Trader Joe's last time I was up North. You probably can't read the label, but the colored bits you can see there are spinach and tomato orzo, split baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa. It was those garbanzo beans in particular that made me think Spanish or Portuguese flavors would work well. One thing I didn't think of, and apparently nobody at Trader Joe's thought of either, is that dried garbanzo beans, no matter how small, take considerably longer to cook than Israeli couscous. More on that later.

Unlike paella (and like most successful risottos), the starch and the rest of the dish cook separately. I simmered a cup of the couscous mix with half a tablespoon of butter and a bit more than a cup of chicken broth.

In a separate pan--a paella pan actually as that's what I happen to have in 8" non-stick--I heated some olive oil and a quarter pound of garlicky Portuguese chorizo on medium-high heat until it started to sizzle and the sausage rendered out some lovely bright red fat. I added a half cup diced onion, a half cup diced green pepper, eight or so medium shrimp salt, pepper and a tablespoon of Spanish smoked paprika (a.k.a. pimenton), turned the heat down a bit and sautéed for a few minutes until the shrimp were nearly cooked and the onion and pepper were translucent and tender. Then I added all the greens--about 4 cups I'd guess--my beet greens were pretty badly chewed up in the garden so I had less usable than perhaps you do, and stirred it all up to wilt. I deliberately didn't dry the greens very much so a bit of sauce had started to develop by this point.

If I was using plain couscous, it would have been done at this point and I could have added it to the pan. Instead, I added more broth and simmered the grains for 10 more minutes while all my vegetables overcooked. Then, with the baby garbanzos still not quite tender and everything else turning to mush, I added them to the pan along with a 7 oz. can of fresh--well, not dried anyway--garbanzos including the liquid. I stirred it a bit more, heated everything through and cooked the canned garbanzos a little to lose the starchy texture, adjusted the seasonings and I was done. As it cooled at bit, the sauce thickened up nicely.

Not too difficult, a nice presentation, and a lovely combination of flavors. The texture could be better, but when you make it, it will be. I know you can get Israeli couscous at Green Market and I'm pretty sure they're in Whole Food's bulk grain offerings too. You can get the pimenton both places too and, as I mentioned in comments last week, it's a great addition to your spice drawer.

That's not to say you really need it for this dish. Switch out the chorizo for Italian sausage and add some tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Or add feta, lemon and oregano for a creamy Greek variation. Or sharp cheddar and ham for an American version. Lots of possibilities here and now I'm sorry I didn't think of the Greek version earlier.

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