Archive for the ‘starches miscellaneous’ Category

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Walking on sunshine

May 8, 2012

Hello all … well, Love & Hunger has been out for a week today, and I’ve been a little taken aback at how frenetic that week has been. A few radio interviews, a newspaper extract here and there, a couple of reviews, few pieces on others’ people’s blogs – I’m pooped! And on Thursday I’m off to New Zealand for the Auckland Readers’ & Writers’ Festival – very excited as I’ve never been to NZ before – then straight back into the Sydney Writers’ Festival starting in Katoomba on Monday and Tuesday, then more events in Sydney at the end of the week. Plus a couple more interviews. And then more festivals and travelling to come …

When my darling writer friend Tegan (whose novels and stories are some of the finest you shall ever have the pleasure of reading) read Love & Hunger she said I should prepare myself for much communication, because of its conversational nature. She was right.

I have had emails from radio listeners, including one woman who took me to task for my offhand remarks about bad Australian food in the 1970s (“the food of the 1950s to the 1970s is in fact far superior to the food served up today”), and another very moving one from a woman coping with chemotherapy without the support of her friends. I’ve had a gorgeous podcast listener from south-west France email to invite me and my husband to come and enjoy the food of his region, and another lump-in-the-throat email from a young uni student who bought my book after reading The Age extract: “I feel your every word directed to me personally … perhaps you have given me what Elizabeth David gave you all those years ago.”

I have had the most beautiful messages from friends and family who have already read it, often sharing with me what they’ve cooked that day for someone else, or offering me a new recipe apropos of something that’s come from the book. I absolutely love this passing on of ideas and knowledge and experience – as in Tegan’s lovely comments here the other day. It means that for these people at least, the book has worked in the way I hoped it would – as a conversation, a lighter of flame, a nourishing presence. I can’t tell you how happy it’s all making me.

That long and busy week was topped off by seeing Senor playing trumpet at a gig for the first time in a long time for me. It made me so elated to see him play again, because he so talented, and he enjoys it so much. And that event gave  rise to yet another conversation and a new idea, about bringing people together through music, in a new little experiment we’ve got started.

More on that later – but in the meantime, the weather is sharp, and blue-skied, and cold. Which means it’s perfect for this sunshiny roasted pumpkin risotto. It is the business – comfort food with zing and vibrance, first made for me many moons ago by the Empress, and which has become one of my faves. It’s also excellent frugal food, but with absolutely no sense of poverty about it whatsoever.

Roast pumpkin risotto for 8

  • 1 big lump of pumpkin – I used about a quarter of a medium punk for this one, I suppose around 1kg or a bit more…
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • white wine or verjuice
  • 1.5 litres chicken / vegetable stock
  • butter
  • Parmesan
  1. Cut pumpkin into big chunks and roast in olive oil in the oven for up to an hour, until nicely browned and very soft and mashable
  2. You already know how to make risotto, but just in case: gently fry the onion & garlic in oil, pour in the rice and stir until the grains begin to stick to the pan, deglaze with a glass of white wine, then lower the heat and add the hot stock a cup or so at a time, stirring very frequently until the rice is just al dente, and adding boiling water if you run out of stock.
  3. Meanwhile, mash up the pumpkin and then when the rice is just tender, add it to the pan and stir in to get a beautiful orange risotto.
  4. Add a big lump of butter and stir, loosen the mix with more boiling water or stock until it’s nicely sloppy – I detest a stiff risotto – season and then add to a bowl with grated Parmesan and lots and lots and lots of pepper.

 

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Oh my dahling: my deskside devotion

May 12, 2011

Some of you may remember my ill-fated experiment with dhal many mooons ago – an experience that made me gag. Well, thanks to a fantastic vegetarian Indian cookbook I was sent recently, I have not only got back on the dahl horse but the two of us have taken to spending many long, loving hours together.

What I’ve discovered, you see, is that dahl – and my particular favourite, spinach – is quite possibly the perfect desk-side lunch. And what with all the structural editing and rereading and copy-editing and rewriting of my forthcoming novel that’s been happening lately, I have been spending more time than usual glued to the office chair, working away to meet the required deadlines. At times like these, as many of you know, nicking off to the kitchen to potter about making lunch feels way too guilt-inducingly like wagging school.

So after a few goes at making dahl from different recipes, and falling head-over-heels in love with it, one Sunday I prepared for a very intensive week of editing by making a giant pot of spinach dahl. Flavour-wise, I find it improves more with each day (even up to four or five days in). It has the comfort-food factor to boot: soft in the mouth, and deeply nourishing to the body and soul. I have eaten this dahl every day for lunch for almost a week, and not tired of it one little bit.

Once it’s in the fridge, the only lunch preparation required is a bowl, a couple of pings in the microwave, and a spoon. Except, I must add, the one crucial addition when serving is a dollop of spicy chutney or hot pickle – this is absolutely essential in my view.

Another great thing about dahl is that it’s so easy to concoct your own version. After once or twice following a recipe, now I just bung in whatever I feel like on the day, with quantities and textures and ingredients varying each time. I am sure there are some dahl purists out there, and if so I would very much love to hear your views on texture and heat and starchiness and so on. But if you’re a fan of the bung-it-in-and-see-what-happens approach to cooking, this could be your new favourite too.  This recipe is a result of combining a Madhur Jaffrey recipe and one from the Mysore Style Cooking book, I think, as well as a few others I read online.

This serves about six people – or enough for one novel’s intensive week-long copy-edit.

Ingredients

  • 3 bunches English spinach, thoroughly washed and leaves separated from stems. roughly chop leaves; keep the stems from one bunch and discard the others. Finely chop the stems and set aside.
  • 2 cups dahl – I used skinned and split moong dahl, but you could use any old kind of split lentil (there are so many different types of dried lentil, split and whole, that work for dahl – try a few different ones to discover your favourite)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 or 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • green or red chillies, finely chopped, to taste
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut

Method

1. Thoroughly wash the dahl in several changes of water, then add to a heavy based pan with 8 cups water, the turmeric and bay leaf.

2. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover almost entirely with the lid and leave to simmer gently for up to an hour, or until the lentils are tender.

3. In a separate pan, heat a little oil and fry the mustard and cumin seeds over medium heat until they start to crackle and pop.

4. Add onion, ginger and finely chopped spinach stems, saute gently until translucent.

5.  Into the pan put the spinach, firmly packing it in if necessary, and cover.

6. Cook over gentle heat until the spinach is thoroughly wilted and shrinks right down.

7.  When the dahl is cooked, combine the contents of the two pans and mix thoroughly over low heat.

8. Add the remaining ingredients, adjusting seasoning and heat to taste, and continue to cook gently until you achieve the texture you prefer. Add more water if it becomes too thick for your liking.

9. Serve in a bowl with a dollop of hot pickle (this one is a standard Patak’s Hot Lime Pickle) or sweet chutney* and some chopped coriander if desired.

*My absolute favourite chutney in the world, first given me by our friend Caro, is this Roasted Cherry Chutney made by a New Zealand company called Provisions of Central Otago. Senor and I became so addicted to it that when we finished the jar Caro brought us back from across the ditch, and I learned my Twitter buddy and food fiend @Reemski was going to NZ, I basically begged her to bring some back for me. She doubled the joy by also bringing their Roasted Nectarine Chutney – lordy me, what a feast.  If anyone hears of a local stockist for this stuff, let me know! Otherwise next time I shall be biting the bullet and buying over $50 worth from their website (if they ship to Oz – not sure). 

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Baked beans, baby!

April 11, 2011

You may recall that following our highway harvesting a couple of weeks ago I found myself with a kilo of fresh borlotti beans and no idea what to do with them. Until I asked good old Twitter for ideas (so useful for a quick shout-out, that place) and @BZB suggested Boston baked beans – bingo!

For years I’ve seen gorgeous-looking recipes for luscious, caramelly Boston baked beans and always wanted to try them, but had never gotten around to it. So this time I did, and now I’m addicted. I even love canned baked beans as an instant comfort food, but as we try to avoid packaged and processed stuff as much as possible these days, so I haven’t eaten them in years.

A quick trawl for real baked bean recipes showed that most traditional recipes seem to use treacle, and lots include some form of smoked pork. I wanted to do this quickly, and without having to shop for strange ingredients (can’t see myself using treacle much round here ….) so I did the usual kinds of kitchen substitutions and ended up with my own quickish and easy version. I’ve made these baked beans twice now, once with the fresh borlottis and once with dried white beans. The picture here is with the white beans, and as they’re more usually to hand, so is this recipe.

With our lovely fresh roadside borlottis (pictured podded here) there was no soaking involved, obviously. In fact despite being a bit unsure of what to do, I just tossed them uncooked into the saucy mix and baked them for several hours – while I was off attending a pro-carbon tax rally, to be precise. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned sign-waving, foot-stomping, slogan-shouting protesting for working up an appetite for these babies! (and no, I won’t be sullying this blog with the gags about gases and emissions that are just begging to be made right here; you’ll have to enjoy those in the privacy of your own home…!)

Back to the recipe. I began with Maggie Beer, as I so often do, and her recipe for Boston baked beans from Maggie’s Kitchenthe same recipe is conveniently provided on her website here. I’ve always found Maggie’s recipes work perfectly, so am sure this one would do as well, but as I was improvising with stuff to hand, my baked beans are a little different. First, as I said, I skipped the treacle and instead used a combination of maple syrup and honey. I also used ordinary (but scrumptious free range) bacon instead of smoked pork belly or speck, and my beans didn’t take as long to cook as indicated in her recipe. Otherwise, it’s really very much the same. Here’s what I did. The cloves and bay leaves are especially essential.

Ingredients

  • 500g dried white beans
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 100g smoky bacon
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt & pepper

Method

1. Soak the beans overnight (these days I add a few spoonsful of natural yoghurt to the soaking water, as recommended by Zoe, the Bean Queen, who knows stuff about stuff and tells me the enzymes rolling about in this process aids with alleviation of the aforementioned gaseous emissions! Am yet to try adding kombu, which is even better, apparently – care to elaborate, Ms Zoe?). Discard the water and rinse.

2. Place the beans in a heavy pan, cover with water and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer gently over low heat for around half an hour; drain and leave to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 140 degrees C.

3. In a bowl combine the mustard, honey and maple syrup.

4. Insert 1 clove into each onion half, then toss over a high heat for a few minutes in a large, ovenproof heavy-based saucepan, casserole or deep-frying pan with the bacon and bay leaves and a splash of oil.

5. Add tomatoes, beans and the mustard mix, stir and cover.

6. Bake in the oven for anything up to four hours, checking every 30 minutes or so to see how tender the beans are and adding water if it gets too dry.

7. For the last half hour, remove the lid, add the vinegar and cook uncovered.

8. When beans are as tender as you like them, check seasoning – adjusting the sweetness to taste – and serve. These are fantastic with poached eggs for a hearty weekend breakfast, or on their own in a small bowl for a workday lunch.

Now – much as I love these, I would also love your version. Anybody made them? What’s your twist?


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Doing the wild thing

October 15, 2010

I could spend all day admiring the glossy black spikes of wild rice.

Aren’t they stunning? Like dropped sea urchin spines, or an echidna’s shrugged-off party frock.

There’s something tribal and daring about the look of this rice family’s younger punk sibling, which is apparently not rice at all but a type of aquatic grass,  from the genus Zizania.

I haven’t used it terribly often – have you? – but I love the chewy texture and nutty flavour that comes when the grain splits as it cooks. The stuff I buy comes from North America, where several Zizania species are native. Other species are native to different parts of the world (like China), and there is even a completely different wild rice plant, Potamophila parviflora – not available commercially, which is unsurprising given our water problems – native to  Australia.

I’m told it takes about 45 minutes of boiling for wild rice to properly cook, and in truth I’ve never really measured the time but just drained it when the kernel splits to reveal the white inside – the shorter the cooking time, the chewier the texture.

You may remember that my favourite quinoa salad, a bastardisation of a quinoa dish by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi, includes wild rice.  And I’ve used it in stuffing for chicken, with nuts and dried fruit. But I would love to hear how you use wild rice, so do share your ideas.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an easy rice and lentil side dish I made the other night to accompany some chermoula-barbecued salmon fillets (more on chermoula soon). I just threw this together and liked it so much I’m going to do lentil and rice combinations much more often. We did cheat a bit with this, having brought home a container of seeni sambol, the deliciously sticky, jammy, spicy Sri Lankan caramelised onion sambal from Kammadhenu the other night.  This stuff is the business, to add a kick to any dish you like, from soup to rice to whatever. If you can be bothered making your own, I bet it would be amazing. But otherwise you could just fry some onion till very dark and stir through this pilaffy number at the end.

  • ¼ cup wild rice
  • ½ cup Basmati rice
  • ¼ cup Persian red lentils
  • ¼ cup currants soaked in red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon seeni sambol or 1 whole onion, sliced and fried till very crisp and dark
  • 1 tablespoon torn mint
  • sale & pepper

Cook the rice and lentils in three separate pots of boiling water till tender (the wild rice will take up to 45 minutes), then drain and mix.

Stir through the currants, sambol or onion and mint, check seasoning and serve.

Now your turn. What do you do with this dark and spiky little number?

 

 

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How to make a vegetarian smile, pt II

September 17, 2010

The last entirely vegetarian dinner party I cooked was a wintry little number, but very satisfying, with a few  nicely contrasting elements I think. The mainstay was a mushroom ragu served on creamy polenta, paired with a side dish of a punchy green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese.

There are a couple of things that made this work well. First, both the ragu and the lentils used  the roasted vegetable stock, as I described ages ago here. This time though, I took a leaf out of Skye Gyngell’s book – her secret flavour weapons often include tamari sauce and maple syrup, so I added a tablespoon of each to the reduced stock. I swear this little combo, while not leaping out as separate flavours, really gives a layered depth and complexity to the stock.

Next was the assortment of mushrooms. I used about 600g of combined chopped Portobello, field and Swiss brown mushrooms, and later added – importantly – a good tablespoon’s worth of dried porcinis to the mix. Again, this gives a big hit of rich flavour.

Mushroom ragu with creamy polenta

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 600g chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 x can peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup roasted vegetable stock
  • 10g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan, to serve
  1. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until soft.
  2. Add a good big knob of butter & a little more oil, turn up the heat and – gradually, in batches – sauté the fresh mushrooms with the mirepoix over a high heat until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture and are nicely browned.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. Add the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce.
  5. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes (or even up to an hour),  till the sauce has reduced and thickened, adding another good slug of oil if it looks too watery. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Not long before you’re ready to serve, make the creamy polenta – this is dead simple, as described here, but does take a little time. Just do the onion & milk bit ahead of time, and if you need to, have your guests chat with you in the kitchen while you stir.

Spoon the polenta into shallow pasta bowls, and top with a heap of the mushroom ragu (add a tiny swizzle of olive oil at the last second, if you dare), and sprinkle with Parmesan at the table.

Green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese

This zingy little salad can be made completely ahead of time and simply dressed & tossed just before you eat.

1. Sling half a cup of puy lentils into a pan of hot vegetable stock, and simmer for 20 minutes or till tender. Drain and return to the pan with a splash of olive oil till ready to assemble the salad.

2. Have some slow-roasted tomatoes (scroll down on the Essential Ingredients page) ready to go.

3. When you’re ready to serve, toss some good green salad leaves (specially good with some texturally springy ones, like curly endive and radicchio as well as soft lettuce) together with the scattered lentils and tomatoes in a bowl with a dressing of three-parts good extra-virgin oil to one-part best-quality balsamic vinegar. Then tear up some marinated goat’s cheese  (or even better, your homemade labneh!) and toss it into the salad in chunks. Serve in a bowl at the table.

Sweet ending

For dessert, I can’t recommend this whole orange cake highly enough – and because it’s made with almond meal instead of flour, it gives your guests another dose of good nutty protein. Serve it with some more yoghurt or cream on the side. Another almondy option is a frangipane tart, and although I haven’t made this particular one, there is a beautiful-sounding recipe here. Otherwise, I’d go for some other fruit-based dessert.

So there you have it – a simple but I think nicely varied vegetarian dinner menu for four, with heaps of punchy flavour and texture, and also providing a reasonably diverse mix of protein, dairy, carbohydrate and lots of other goodies.

I would love to hear comment from our vegetarian visitors about how this combination might be improved – and as well, keep your ideas for zingy vego dinner party dishes coming.

V

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The rough stuff

June 14, 2010


How I finally made friends with my rolling pin

This was the week I decided I have been afraid of pastry for too long.

I have always found pastry-making a stressful, lengthy process whereby the entire kitchen is covered in flour, I never have it rolled thinly enough, it always breaks and my pie ends up like some road-accident patchwork, and very often it doesn’t cook through on the bottom. The idea that anyone would want to be a pastry-chef is completely mystifying to me.

My pastry problem was brought home to me once again this week following an attempt during the week to make Maggie Beer’s famous and supposedly foolproof sour cream pastry for a chicken pie – I made it, and it tasted great, but seemed to take me all day, I did hundreds of things wrong and my measurements were out. I think I handled it too much, processed it too much, didn’t have things cold enough, and just generally stuffed it up. So the result, while lovely in flavour, was too crumbly and looked like crap, because of my almost running out of pastry for the pie lids so rolling it way too thin for the tops. Hopeless.

There and then I determined to master at least one basic pastry recipe – this has been a big hole in my repertoire (and my pie crusts) all my cooking life and I’ve relied entirely on frozen pastry forever. Which is fine, but I hate being scared of cooking. Happily, this realisation coincided with a long weekend visit from my sisters, one of whom is the Paragon of Pastry, so I demanded a lesson in her gold standard easy pastry.

The Paragon – whose Christmas mince pies each year provoke the kind of unseemly, grasping scramblefest among her siblings akin to the behaviour of those ghastly bargain-shoppers with faces pressed to the department store sliding doors on Boxing Day – reckons the only pastry she ever makes is the Rough Puff she learned decades ago from Delia Smith, and uses it for everything.

When the Paragon makes it, this pastry is fabulously sturdy, flaky and crisp. She seems to make it in about forty-five seconds flat, and it always works.

I am determined to master it.

So today we had a lesson, and made two batches – one for a quiche and the other for freezing, ready for next time we want some.

Couldn’t find Delia Smith’s particular rough puff recipe, but the web is full of versions which are identical and very simple. The tricky part is not the measurements but the technique.

Rough puff pastry

  • 250g butter, at room temperature but not soft; cut into chunks
  • 250g plain flour
  • 150ml iced water
  • salt
  • squeeze lemon juice

Method

This is the  complicated part, which I’m told improves only with practice. The Paragon’s visit also happened to coincide with my discovery of the video function on my mini camera, so here for your edification is the start of the process. If I’d known it would work so adequately I’d have video’d the whole thing step-by-step, but this start will have to suffice. At least you can see from this bit just how rough is rough – what you’re after, apparently, is great lumps of unmixed butter which when rolled & folded, form the layers of flaky goodness in the pastry. Big no-nos are letting it get too warm, rolling it too much and handling it too much. So there.

Step 1:

Here, then, is the Paragon’s step one: chuck the lumps of butter in with the flour & salt, make a well in the middle and pour in the icy water & lemon juice, and then do this! At the end she’s gathering it up ready to turn out on to the bench. Just like that – big loose, lumpy mess.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 2:

Form into a rough rectangle.

Roll the dough in one direction only, pulling in the pastry to keep edges straightish.

Don’t overwork the pastry! Whatever that means!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 3:

Give the pastry a quarter turn to the right or left and make two dints with your hand across its length. Push the pastry together from the ends, sort of trapping the air in pockets made by the dints, and roll out again.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Step 4:

Fold the length of pastry into thirds, as shown.

Give the dough another quarter turn and roll out again to three times the length.

Then fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use. We put it into the pie dish and chilled again.

The filling should go into cold pastry.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The result:

We used the pastry for a quiche base and it turned out rather beautifully, despite my 
Idiot’s mistake #4587: I wrapped the lovely soft pastry around the rolling pin as I’ve seen cool pastry people do, then unrolled it over the quiche tin, then enthusiastically used the roller to slice the pastry off at the fluted edges. Beautiful. Except  I hadn’t actually let the pastry reach the greased bottom of the tin first, so when it did drop, it was way too shallow all around the sides. So, hello patching at which I am now quite accomplished, and goodbye beautifully fluted edges. Hrmph.

But cest la vie – when the quiche (leek & rainbow chard, mmm) was cooked, it looked like this. And the pastry was buttery, crisp and flaky and quite simply Very Good.

Hooray!

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Summoning summer: citrus couscous

September 11, 2009

couscous2One of the many salads we devoured last weekend on our tropical mini-break was a holiday favourite – we have eaten this on every summer camping or beachside weekend away for years and years, so whenever we eat this, it always feels like summer to me. It is spectacularly good with flaked smoked trout and a dollop of mayonnaise. I think the original recipe is from a Gourmet Traveller some years ago, but have no more specific source than that except my friend J, who first gave me the recipe.

The only other thing I know about this dish is that anyone who tastes it loves it, and it keeps happily for days and days as leftovers. So if you would like to summon up summer this weekend, go ahead and try it out. This quantity works well for six greedy grunters (us) or eight more sedate eaters.

Citrus couscous

  • 2 cups couscous
  • 2 cups orange juice (about eight oranges – best if freshly squeezed because you can use the pulp tooo)
  • 1 knob of butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 or 4 zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch shallots, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (don’t blacken them too much like I did in this pictured one!)
  • 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • lemon juice to taste (about half a lemon’s worth is good)
  1. Bring orange juice to boil in a small saucepan with butter, salt & pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in couscous till well combined. Leave for at least half an hour.
  2. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a non-stick pan.
  3. Saute zucchini slices in olive oil until well browned and soft.
  4. In a large salad bowl combine all remaining ingredients, and season well. Add the cooled zucchini to the mix.
  5. Take the saucepan and gently comb and scrape the couscous until the grains separate – this takes a while and it’s important to be patient, otherwise you end up with big lumps. Empty the loose grains into the salad bowl as you go. Often the last thin layer has to be discarded.
  6. Stir other ingredients loosely through the couscous until well combined and check seasoning.