Vegan Dinner + Asparagus with Couscous

5 Oct

Just back from New York – what an amazing trip! Had lunch at Per Se on Saturday, and will review it soon. Friday was great fun too. I had my very curly hair cut at Ouidad – she is the Goddess of Curly Hair, and an incredible inspiration. And because this was New York, and I was having a wonderful time, I stopped in at Dean and Deluca on my way home and browsed.

Dinner!Oh that place is just a total culinary paradise. I wandered around for an hour, just inhaling the aromas, and browsing everything. If I had more room in my suitcase, I would have bought the store! It was as if I was in a curated foodie dream … the olive oils, the truffles, the ice creams, the cheeses… and the fruits and vegetables! Of course it was terrifically expensive, but so beautiful. I found such fresh fruits and vegetables – everything perfect, and at its peak. When I got home, I decided to study what I had bought and treat it with great simplicity and respect.

My hostess, and dear friend T, is a vegan. I wanted to make her dinner, and it was a cold and stormy night, so I was inspired by the end of summer wealth of fruit and vegetables available at Dean and Deluca. I wanted to make a meal full of strong sensuous flavours that would not overwhelm us, and yet would nourish the senses. It was such a pleasure to cook with this produce, at its height of freshenss. It was easy to make something bright and beautiful. We had:

  • Eggplant (aubergine) dip made from roasted eggplant, tomatoes and virgin olive oil
  • Beautiful fresh bread
  • Fresh figs (I was going to poach them in white wine, but I tasted them, and they were so perfect, I decided to leave them in their glory)
  • Roasted baby heirloom tomatoes and garlic, with fresh basil. Very easy and very quick – 200C (400F) oven – pop in a tray of sliced tomatoes, garlic and basil, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Roast until the entire house is scented and everything is soft and slightly burnt, and luscious.
  • Hand rolled couscous with asparagus, mint, basil and meyer lemon
  • Reisling poached pear sorbet by Jeni’s Ice Creams (I had a Salty Caramel for non-vegan me which was mind blowing) – you can order for delivery!

For the asparagus with couscous, which will serve four, or two, with leftovers for the weekend, you will need:

  • 1 bunch fresh organic asparagus (about 1 – 2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup couscous (I used this amazing hand rolled couscous but garden variety is just fine!)
  • 1 bunch fresh organic mint (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 bunch fresh organic basil (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 Meyer lemon

Prepare the asparagus first. For each stalk, snap the bottom off with your hands. The asparagus will snap naturally, and you will be left with shortened stalks, but the best part. Discard the bottom bits.

Chop the asparagus into 2 inch or so sections. Boil about 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan on high heat. Add a bit of salt. Dunk the asparagus into the boiling water. Watch carefully. The asparagus will turn bright green. You want to remove it from the water almost as soon as it cooks – taste and see but I usually only leave it in for a minute or two. This ensures its very fresh, slightly crisp and yet cooked. The asparagus we had was sweet and very pure tasting without any adornment.

Use a sieve if you have it and take the asparagus out of its hot water bath and immediately dunk it in ice water or put it in a bowl and run cold water over – this will stop the cooking process. If you can, save the water the asparagus was cooked in for the couscous. Once the asparagus has been well cooled, set aside in a little bowl.

Using the same saucepan (and the same water if youre lucky), prepare the couscous. You will usually need about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of couscous, but follow directions on the package. I usually add a dollop of extra virgin olive oil to the boiling water for flavour and a sprinkle of salt. Once the water is boiling, add the couscous, stir, and take off heat. Cover, and let stand, steaming quietly to itself, for about 5 – 10 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, take the lid off, and fluff. It will then be ready to serve.

While the couscous is absorbing all its water, chop the mint and basil fine and set aside. Grate the skin of the lemon, and set aside. Squeeze at least 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and set aside.

I thought I would spice this up with some Moroccan spices, dark and dusky, but the flavours were so clean and beautiful, I left them out completely!

Couscous!Once the couscous is ready, stir in the mint, basil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste for salt, and if you want, add a teaspoon of olive oil for depth of flavour. Let stand for a few minutes to come to room temperature, and then stir in the asparagus. Serve at room temperature.

This is the perfect last hurrah of summer!

Please forgive the iPod photos! I forgot my camera!

2 Responses to “Vegan Dinner + Asparagus with Couscous”

  1. goddessmoments October 9, 2010 at 12:49 am #

    Divine šŸ™‚

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