I won’t claim that this dinner is as fast as popping a pizza pop into the microwave, but it is in the same class. Same class for time, of course. In nutritional value and taste, this quick dish wins before the contest starts.
The day was hot and I had been working in the garden for hours. I needed warm food, but there was no way a chicken dinner was appetizing. I was also about a heartbeat away from running to the corner for a sub, so it had to be fast and easy.
I came up with the stir fry idea very quickly. It’s a natural go-to when creativity fails. But I didn’t want the weight of noodles, or the cooking time for rice. Couscous is perfect for this scenario, especially since I had fresh chicken stock in the fridge. (Read about couscous here and how to make stock here.) I took the extra step of toasting the couscous in the preheating frying pan, while the chicken stock boiled in the microwave. (Toasting dry couscous is an easy way to add a nutty flavor.)
I put ¼ cup of broth into a small, covered glass container, and cooked for three minutes in the microwave, on high, to boil the broth. A little less than ¼ cup couscous went into the dry pan until the broth boiled. I put the toasted couscous into the boiling broth and set it aside.
While the broth was boiling and the couscous toasting (you only need to stir or shake the couscous occasionally), I sliced and diced the other ingredients. I sliced half a small onion, chopped two cloves of garlic, and a piece of red pepper, quartered (to remove the pit) and sliced one apricot, and chopped about ½ cup of cooked chicken.
Note: I used cooked chicken for this dish, but you could use raw chicken if it was sliced into small pieces and added with the vegetables to cook. See how to freeze meat so you have access to small amounts in a hurry.
Into the preheated pan (from toasting the couscous), I added the onion, garlic and red pepper (if using raw chicken, add it now) and sauteed for a few minutes.
I added spices, and stir fried for another minute. For this meal, I chose Middle Eastern spices, including cardamom, allspice, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, cumin and fennel. You could choose an Italian variation with basil and oregano, or enhance the chicken theme with sage with salt and pepper. The beauty of real food is that you can match your meal to your exact mood and preference. Keeping your spices and herbs handy and easy to use encourages creative combinations.
Finally, I added about ¼ cup of chicken broth, and simmered aggressively for a minute or two to boil off some of the liquid. I then added the cooked chicken and apricot. I only cooked this final mixture for a minute or so to warm the new ingredients.
Couscous on the plate, stir fry over, and cilantro … off to the dining room.(See how to keep fresh herbs crisp and handy.)
As you are getting more familiar with preparing food from ingredients, it will take a bit of time. However, when your kitchen is in good order, ingredients and utensils handy and familiar, a dish like this can truly be on the table in 10 minutes for one or two people. Family portions take a little longer to cook, and the microwave is often impractical, so more like 15 minutes.
The secret is in the organization, so you are chopping things for the stir fry at the same time as toasting the couscous and boiling the broth (to simplify, skip the toasting if you are new to real cooking). Your vegetables need to be ready to take advantage of the hot pan from toasting the couscous. Watch for ways to overlap your steps to trim serious time from your food preparation. (If following a recipe, read carefully through the entire recipe — overlap steps are often included).