I am a well documented hater of side dishes. I can’t defend this really. I mean everyone wants a little of this or that with their beef or chicken, even in the form of a steamed green thing. And yet I deprive my family almost nightly, giving them plates with unsightly bald spots where a mound of rice or bits of broccoli should be, because I can never plan dinner beyond protein and dessert.
Add this to the SORRY! list, right up there with forgetting to wash the volleyball uniforms (“It doesn’t smell that bad. No seriously!") and failing to turn in the lottery application for the school play.
But when company comes, I feel a bit more obliged. So the other night, in looking for a side dish for my salmon for eight, I stumbled upon Citrus Olive Cous Cous. The first thing I have to tell you is that cous cous is a little divisive in my marriage, because my husband prefers the smaller traditional semolina, whereas I am a big fan of the pearl-sized guys, even though I believe them to be less traditional. (Paging Paula Wolfert!) When he starts cooking, he gets to pick.
So! I doubled this recipe, and my main advice to you about it is to keep stirring occasionally. That is really all you need to know. Brown the cous cous a little, but not too much. Watch, and stir. Add the orange juice, bring to a boil and then cover as instructed, but again, do turn it a bit now and then or it is going to stick. That’s just the way it is.
While that is cooking, go ahead and cut up your olives. Get good ones, of course, because they are the central flavor in the dish. What I did next is add those olives, as well as the onions, and let them simmer a bit together rather than use it all as a dressing.
I don’t garnish, so there were no rings. But it would have looked prettier with them.
This dish is the perfect example of what happens when you take something a little sweet, something a little tangy, put it on a willing and pliant carbohydrate and go to town with little effort. I can’t wait to make it again. Even for my poor suffering side-less family.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
Photo by James Ransom