kitchen firsts: israeli couscous with chard (or spinach), mushrooms and feta
Finally, yes finally, I am getting caught up on the kitchen firsts backlog I got buried under after my vacation! We actually made this dish during the last week of July, and here we are practically a month later (luckily, still swiss chard season, although we are nearing the end of its June-August peak) and I don’t want to wait any longer to share this recipe! This one came from Peter Berley’s The Flexitarian Table, and it immediately spoke to me, as I had been wanting to try chard for the first time and mixing it with israeli couscous, mushrooms, and feta sounded like a great way to do so (we seem to be on a feta kick lately, so its inclusion totally sealed the deal). Unfortunately, it turns out that I don’t really like chard (oops!), but if there was ever a dish that would make me want to eat it anyway, this is it!
You start by cooking up some onion, carrot and celery along with the pretty-colored stems of the chard, which was enough to whet my appetite and make the kitchen smell wonderful (I just love the smell of mirepoix in the pan). Next you add mushrooms, garlic and thyme, and then toss in some israeli couscous and stir it around with the other stuff for awhile, before adding some broth for the couscous to cook in. The original recipe called for fregola, a Sardinian, peppercorn-sized pasta I had never heard of before, but as we had the couscous on hand and it’s a more common ingredient, we went with it instead. Once the couscous is tender, you can toss in the chard greens, let them wilt, and then toss in the feta and you’re good to go! All in all it was a pretty quick meal (we skipped the step of making our own veg stock first, which is a fine shortcut as long as you use the best veggie stock you can find), and as it is also a one-pot meal and vegetarian, I felt pretty damn good about what we were eating that evening (well, except for the disappointment of finding that I wasn’t in love with the chard).
I have a couple of cookbooks from the UK on my shelf, so I knew that the Brits call chard “silverbeet,” but I don’t know why it never occurred to me that chard might therefore be related to beets and maybe even taste a bit like beets, which would’ve been a red flag for me. I just figured it was a leafy green and I should add it to my repertoire. But I’ve come to realize that leafy greens have very distinct characters, and personally I find chard to have a rather assuming flavor. It’s a little bit bitter, with a little too much of a beet-undertone, and while I still enjoyed the dish as a whole and gulped down my whole bowl with gusto, when I make it again I will probably switch it out for some baby spinach (although I will miss the lovely colors of the chard). Stephen, on the other hand, loved the chard and ate two huge bowls of it, so if you haven’t tried chard before, you should go ahead and give it a try, because you may discover that you love it! And like I said before, if anything can make a vegetable you’re not crazy about more palatable, it’s pasta, mushrooms, and cheese. If you don’t like feta, you can switch it out for some parmesan– we accidentally added all our feta to the pot and had nothing left for garnish, so we garnished with parmesan and it went really well with the whole thing.
Israeli Couscous with Chard (or Spinach), Mushrooms and Feta (or Parmesan)
Adapted from The Flexitarian Table, by Peter Berley
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 bunch Swiss or rainbow chard, trimmed, rinsed, and separated into thinly sliced stalks and shredded greens
8 oz white or crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup israeli couscous
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, either homemade, or a brand that you really like the taste of
1.5 cups crumbled feta (or grated parmesan)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet, saucepan, or saute pan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and chard stalks, and cook gently, stirring, until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme, raise the heat to medium high, and stir. Cook until the mushrooms have given up their juices; it’s ok if the vegetables get lightly brown, just turn the heat down a bit if they are browning too quickly.
When everything is nicely sauteed, add the couscous and stir around, letting it toast a bit before you add the broth. Pour in the stock and raise the heat to bring the dish to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, stir in the chard greens and let them wilt until tender, about 2 or 3 minutes. Then stir a generous 1 cup of the feta (leaving the rest to sprinkle on top), and stir to heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm in wide soup bowls, garnished with extra cheese.