Sweet and Spicy Couscous

I’m a little addicted to the combination of avocado and mango. Of all the things in the world to be addicted to, I suppose it’s really not all that bad, and certainly it benefits you, my foodie reader-eater. I’d never eaten the combination before until a visit to a family-owned restaurant in San Antonio called Pam’s. Before then, I wasn’t even sure I liked mangoes, to be honest. But after this visit, I was all in, hook, line, and sinker. Avocado and mango just seem to complement each other very well, and together they can take a fair bit of spicy heat which I also appreciate. With my addiction in mind, in the summer months, I’m always looking for ways to combine the two flavors. After reading some other blog posts on easy summer salads, I thought I could most certainly make a variation on a couscous salad with mango and avocado. The best news is that it can be done in just the time it takes for the couscous to cook! A five-minute dish? Why yes, please, and thank you!

Sweet and Spicy Couscous
Sweet and Spicy Couscous

Ingredients
1 small avocado
2 Ataulfo mangoes or 1 med-large mango of the larger varieties (I tend to use the larger varieties)
1 medium jalapeño
1 serving of couscous (1/3 cup dried couscous)

Steps
1. Prepare your couscous according to box directions.
2. Dice and seed your jalapeño. Some jalapeños are naturally just hotter than others, but you can control most of the heat by seeding the pepper and cutting out the ribs, or membranes, along the sides. I usually go with a small dice. Put into a bowl that can ultimately handle all your ingredients.
3. Dice your mango. I recommend slicing your mango sides off, which will be just shy of where the pit is. Take each half and cut through the flesh lengthwise, but not through the skin, then rotate it 45 degrees to slice across the width without going through the skin, which will create cubes. Pop the center up and you can slice the cubes off. Add to your bowl.
mango half          mango sliced in cubes          mango popped, side view          mango popped, top view
4. Dice your avocado. I use a similar method of slicing through the flesh lengthwise, then widthwise, to have cubes inside the skin of the avocado. To get the cubes out, I gently squeeze the avocado half around in my hand to loosen everything up, then take a spoon and run it around the edges to scoop them out.   However, wait until after you add the couscous to add the avocado.
avocado cubes
5. When your couscous is finished, fluff it and let it cool for a minute. Add it to the mango and pepper. Stir.

cooked couscous

This needs fluffing.

6. Add your avocado, and stir ever so gently so it doesn’t smash up. You want to keep the cubes intact.
mixed up couscous
7. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want or some chopped cilantro like I did!

I’m not entirely certain the kind of mango I use because my grocery store seems to only label Ataulfo mangoes. A Google search turned up several results on mangoes with pictures. However the pictures of the other variations of mangoes look VERY similar to me so I am not sure. The mangoes I use are large, green, red, sometimes yellow, usually kind of firm, and not so fibrous. Either way, I’m certain it will be tasty.

Please remember to be quite careful after handling the pepper. Wash your hands immediately so you don’t transfer the capsaicin oil to your face or other body parts. Ouch! I’ve heard that Cutty Sark (Blended Scotch Whiskey, of all things!) works well to take the sting out if you forget and touch your mouth or nose. This is according to my friend Erin D. I believe she speaks from experience. Sometimes, I will make a paste with baking soda, a touch of dish soap, and water to wash my hands. That helps remove the oil, I think. Using an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, might also help to get the oil off. Alton Brown recommends using plastic gloves, and I have followed that practice on and off through the years.

I haven’t had a chance to try these ideas yet, but here are several variations I’m considering. A finely diced red bell pepper would be a fine addition to this salad as would a minced red onion. I wouldn’t put in a ton of either ingredient because they can be powerfully strong ingredients. Green onion, both the green and the white parts, would work well. Garlic would be a fine addition as might a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Go easy on the vinegar, though. A little goes a long way. You could also substitute quinoa or rice for the couscous; it will just take longer to cook for both of those. Who doesn’t love a recipe that has so many experimental possibilities?! I think it’s so fantastic, myself. It’s also nice in the summer that it’s quick and doesn’t heat up your kitchen that much.

Tell me what your favorite summer salad combinations are! I’d love to try something new. I hope you enjoy sweet and spicy couscous as much as I do. It’s been on repeat in my kitchen several times this summer already. I’m sure it will be on the regular rotation until the ingredients no longer make sense for the season. Happy eating!!

Approximate Nutritional information: Makes 2 generous servings or 3 reasonable servings. Information is for 3 servings.
Calories: 234.5couscous ingredients
Fat: 10.7 g
Carbs: 34.3 g
Protein: 5 g
Potassium: 473.4 mg
Vitamin C: 64.7%

Roasted Garlic

Until recently, I thought everyone knew about roasted garlic. I’ve seen other bloggers post about roasting garlic and read through their posts to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Nope. We’ve all got it, so why are we continuing to post about it? Why am I here adding to the blogosphere with another roasted garlic post? Well, my friends, I’ve learned that not everyone knows what roasted garlic is or that they can make it themselves to avoid paying $8 for it at a restaurant. That is quite possibly one of the biggest restaurant mark-ups out there I’ve ever seen. So sweet food lovers, I’m happy to share with you the various ways I’ve made roasted garlic, what I do with it, and why I encourage you to make it at home instead of eating it out.


Roasted Garlic

Ingredients
Bulb of Garlic
1 teaspoon light olive oil
1 tablespoon water

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice off the top third of the head of garlic, and peel off a few of the extra layers of the papery skin. Leave the last layer or two. You won’t need the top third for the recipe. We’ll talk about what to do with it later.
3. Put your head of garlic in an oven-safe dish along with the tablespoon of water.*

Oven Ready Garlic

4. Drizzle the teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the head of garlic.
5. Cover the dish and put in the oven for 45 minutes.
6. Check garlic to see if the cloves are soft and if it’s starting to turn brown. It might need another 10 – 15 minutes. Your goal is soft, brown, and a little bit caramelized around a few of the edges.

Soft, brown, and caramelized (and the pan cleaned right up!)

7. When you take it out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes so that it burns neither your mouth nor your hands.

*Alternatively, you can wrap your bulb of garlic in a piece of foil so it’s a snug little bundle. If you go this route, omit the tablespoon of water, and just go with the teaspoon of oil. I’ve also used this method. I like it as it reduces the number of dishes you have to wash. The dish/water method seems to keep the garlic from over-browning and reduces waste. It’s your kitchen so you can make the call for your preferred method. The water will evaporate throughout the cooking, and it will get brown in the bottom of your dish, but don’t freak out. This will wash off.

There have been times when I have wanted a few cloves of roasted garlic but didn’t want to roast an entire bulb of garlic. In these cases, I will take a few individual cloves of garlic, leave them wrapped in the skin, bundle them in a piece of foil with just a dollop of light olive oil and cook them in the oven along with whatever I’m baking or during my preparations for the rest of my dinner. As it usually takes me 35 – 40 minutes to make dinner, this is just about the right amount of time to roast the individual cloves. Again, you are looking for the cloves to be soft and browning at the ends. They might be oozing a little bit too; this is a sign of done-ness. For this to happen, your oven needs to be at least 350 degrees. If it’s higher, you should check on the cloves starting around the 25-minute mark.

Decisions…decisions…

When you chop off the top third, you are left with a decision. Many folks just toss it because it’s full of tiny little pieces of garlic that are difficult to do anything with. If you are like me, or have a grandmother like mine who has greatly influenced you, perhaps you feel badly wasting anything including tips and pieces of garlic. I tried once roasting the top third with the rest, but that didn’t end well, so I don’t recommend it. But you could mince it up to go into your meal, or save it to mince later. Just remember to mince it soon as the cut pieces don’t save for too terribly long. It’s also okay if you just throw it away. It’s your kitchen and nobody will know.

My spreader of choice

There is so much you can do with roasted garlic. As one of my dear girlfriends has said, you can start with smearing it on your face and go from there. It is that good. The last time I made it, I took all the cloves out of the head of garlic to put into an aioli. I’ve put roasted garlic on toast, then topped it with cheese or tapenade or bruschetta. I like to put roasted garlic in mashed potatoes or mixed in my baked potatoes. You can smush it through a garlic press into pasta, soup, omelets, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Because roasted garlic has a much more mellow flavor than raw garlic as well as being so spreadable, it can be used as a good substitute for butter. When I was eating my gallbladder low-fat diet last year, I did a lot of roasted garlic-substituting. I did try once leaving out the oil, but it didn’t roast quite as well. The oil helps its spreadability as well the browning of the garlic. Without the oil, the garlic is sort of a pale, anemic color and is difficult to spread.

I got all the cloves out!

Let’s talk about why I believe you should never order the roasted garlic appetizer in a restaurant. At the grocery store, garlic can be 2 for $1.00 or for a real deal, 4 for $1.00. I cannot think of a time when I’ve seen it be more expensive than $0.50 for a head of garlic. Most of us have a bottle of olive oil in our house. Yes, I want to encourage you to use light olive oil which may require owning 2 bottles, but regular olive oil could suffice if you just wanted to have the one. But once you’ve purchased the one bottle of oil for likely somewhere between $5 and $9, depending on brand preference, you can have so many heads of roasted garlic out of that bottle for the price of one appetizer of roasted garlic from your local eatery. There is a fancy-pants restaurant here in Austin where you can order roasted garlic bulbs with toast points for $8.95.  I do vaguely recall they are generous enough to give you two bulbs. Even so, at approximately $4.50 for a bulb with a couple of pieces of toast, it’s not a great deal. Y’all, make this at home. Take your $8.95, get two bulbs, a loaf of French bread, some yummy cheese, maybe some tasty meats or olives, and make a full spread of it. I like to do this regularly, and I highly recommend it.

Roasted garlic cloves for aioli

The reason why I encourage you to use light olive oil over extra virgin olive oil for roasting your garlic is because I have read that the smoke points for the different kinds of olive oil vary with the smoke point for light olive oil being higher than extra virgin. Bad things happen to oil when it reaches the smoke point. First, the oil begins to break down and create free radicals which are bad for your body. However, they are not nearly as bad as flames in your oven, which is the other concern of oil reaching the smoke point. The smoke point isn’t too far from the flash point where the oil could break into flames. Danger, Will Robinson, danger. At the same time, there is A LOT of data out there on the various smoke points for oils, and they don’t all say the same information. This website is all about olive oil and has good information about smoke points so you can educate yourself to make your own decision. One blogger doesn’t even recommend using olive oil anymore; you can read about that and using ghee instead, if you like.

Spread the good word about roasted garlic, y’all. I’ve learned that too many of my dear friends have never eaten it or don’t know how to make it at home. It’s just not right. We shouldn’t be paying $9 for it at restaurants. We can roast our own garlic to use in a plethora of ways! It even keeps in the fridge for about a week if you want to spread out using it. We have options and they are delicious! But do spread the good word so that others can know the joy of roasted garlic. Happy eating!

Mexican Quinoa

Quinoa is baaaack! When we were in Abilene, my dad brought a copy paper box FULL of different kinds of peppers to share with us. I brought back poblanos, Anaheims (red and green), jalapeños (green and purple!!), and banana peppers. I’m about to have to freeze several of the jalapeño and Anaheim peppers to keep them from spoiling because I brought home that many. Last week, I got very creative in my meals trying to use them up. You will see a few recipes from those endeavors in the next few weeks. This particular recipe has a shameful inspiration, actually. Many people out there have guilty pleasures in the form of various TV shows; I have guilty pleasures in the form of various questionable food items. There is no need to reveal them all in one fell swoop, but one of them is a certain Mexican TV dinner that came with cheesy Mexican rice. When contemplating a bunch of peppers and thinking of quinoa, it all came back to me in a flash. Cheesy-peppery Mexican quinoa, it is!

Mexican Quinoa

Ingredients
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup water
2 tsp lime juice (not pictured because it was added last minute, on a whim)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 diced Anaheim peppers – I used 1 red and 1 green because I had both.
1/4 ish cup chopped red onion
1 med-lg sprig of thyme
2 tbsp liquid from salsa (no solids) or tomato sauce (optional)
dash or two of salt

Steps
1. Chop up the peppers into your preferred bite size. I seeded mine; you go with your personal heat preference.
2. Combine quinoa, lime juice, salsa liquid, salt, and water in a saucepan. Cook on high heat (6 or 7 on the dial) until it is boiling.
3. Add peppers and give it a quick stir. Cover and simmer on low (1 or 2 on the dial) for 15 minutes.
4. When 15 minutes is up, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
5. Finely chop the thyme. Grate the cheese.
6. Stir in thyme and cheese until cheese is melted.
7. EAT!

Isn’t that ridiculous easy? Yes, I thought so as well. My friend was over for dinner, and she went back for seconds on the quinoa. I was pleased to see she enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for lunch leftovers the next day, myself!

For variations, you could substitute any variety of peppers or use Monterey Jack cheese. Oooohhh! I bet a jalapeño jack would be quite delightful and add a bit of kick. I did seed my peppers, but I might leave some seeds or possibly the ribs in next time for a little extra heat. Garlic might also be a positive addition to this dish. If you prefer a crunchier onion or pepper, wait until you are letting the quinoa sit for 5 minutes to put them in. You’ll get a light steam but still have plenty of crunch.

A note about adding herbs: When using fresh herbs, it’s better to add them at the end of the cooking/heating process, so they retain more of their flavor. If you added the thyme in with the quinoa at the beginning, it would boil away the tasty flavor and leave you with a bitter, unfortunate flavor in your dish. Fresh herbs are more delicate than dried, so you can, and probably should, add your dried herbs earlier in the cooking process. This allows the herbs to rehydrate a bit and flavor the entire dish. Your recipe should tell you when. When I wing my recipes, I usually add the dried herbs in prior to any boiling or simmering.

Happy eating!

Nutritional Content – divide recipe into 3 servings – approx 1/2 cup each
Calories: 167.8
Fat: 7.4 g
Carbs: 18.8 g
Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 7.8 g
Calcium: 15%