Archive | November 2013

Squash Couscous

I don’t know about you, but I boil very few vegetables. Boiling, as a cooking method, doesn’t exactly bring out the best in vegetables, at least not for me.

This Canadian Living, squash couscous recipe caught my eye, but the picture did not appeal to me at all because the vegetables were essentially boiled in a flavoured broth and served over couscous. However, I loved the other elements of the recipe, so changed the cooking method to get something more palatable for me.

I omitted the broth entirely. Instead, I pre-roasted the squash (I replaced the butternut squash with delicata squash, one of my favourite types of squash) in the oven and cooked the zucchini in a shallow frying pan until golden. If the weather was better, I would have grilled the zucchini on the barbecue. I heated up the oil, cooked the onion, flavourings, and seasoning, and added the chickpeas, squash, and zucchini to absorb some of the flavours.

The result was incredible, with no soggy or boiled down vegetables. In fact, the roasting and shallow pan frying imparted additional flavours bringing out the best in these vegetables, namely their sweetness, still maintaining their shape and bite. It looked like a cornucopia of autumn goodness with mounds of seasonal, caramelized vegetables, embellished by just a hint of honey and a good handful of raisins. Together with the chickpeas and couscous, the dish is a complete vegetable protein and a fitting celebration of the season.

I prepared this for my mother and my mother-in-law (yes, they are both in town at the same time) and there were no leftovers…

If you pre-roast the squash from the night before or the weekend, this dish takes minutes to prepare. Served over a bed of couscous, it really does look special though no one will ever know just how quick and effortless it really was.

Serves 4


 Oil, canola  1/4 cup
 Onion, Spanish, roughly chopped  1
 Ginger, fresh, grated  1/2 tsp
 Salt  1/2 tsp
 Black pepper  1/2 tsp
 Turmeric  1/2 tsp
 Raisins  1/2 cup
 Honey  1/4 cup
 Couscous, whole wheat  2 cups
 Water  4 cups
 Salt  1/2 tsp
 Olive oil  Splash
 Roasted Delicata Squash:  Splash
 Squash, delicata, cut into 1-2-inch pieces  1.5 lbs
 Olive oil  1/3 cup or so
 Black pepper
 Pan-fried Zucchini:  Splash
 Zucchini, green, medium-large,  cut diagonally into 1/4-inch thick pieces  2
 Canola oil  1/2 cup
 Black pepper
 Chickpeas  19 oz can
 Harissa  For serving


  1. To prepare the delicata squash, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash, remove the seeds, and cut the squash into 1-2-inch pieces. There is no need to peel delicata squash. When roasted, the peel becomes very thin and is edible. In a roasting pan, combine squash, olive, salt, and black pepper and roast until caramelized, approximately 45-60 minutes. If I am making this during the week, I normally roast the squash from the night before or the weekend.
  2. To prepare the couscous, follow the instructions on the package. I placed the couscous in a medium bowl and added a splash of olive oil and salt and then poured the boiled water over the couscous, covered it with saran wrap and let it stand for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, I fluffed the couscous with a fork.
  3. To prepare the zucchini, cut the zucchini diagonally into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Season with salt and black pepper. Heat the canola oil in a frying pan and cook zucchini, turning once, approximately 3-4 minutes on each sides, until golden.
  4. In a medium pot, heat canola oil over medium heat.
  5. Add onion, ginger, salt, pepper and turmeric and cook until the onions become translucent and are beginning to caramelize slightly, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  6. Add raisins and honey and cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add chickpeas and cook until heated through, approximately 5 minutes.
  8. Add roasted squash, pan-fried zucchini, and parsley and cook until they are warm and thoroughly combined with pot ingredients, approximately 5 minutes.
  9. Dump couscous onto the centre of large platter. Arrange vegetables over couscous. Sprinkle with more parsley. Serve with harissa as a side or drizzled on top.

Poutine with Black Peppercorn & Onion Gravy

I did not know what poutine was before I moved to Ottawa. Given our close proximity to Quebec and the intermingling of the two cultures in the national capital region, poutine, luckily, is practically on every menu here.

Who doesn’t love French fries topped with local fresh cheese curds and a rich gravy? Seriously, this is comfort food at its best.

Back when I moved here, I tried not to set my heart on poutine too much, figuring it would be difficult to find a restaurant that served the dish with a vegetarian gravy. Within a few weeks, however, we discovered Elgin Street Diner. All of their poutine is topped with a deep, brown mushroom gravy and no one suspects a thing! I was hooked with my first bite. You know it’s wrong and yet oh so right. Since then, other joints that specialize in poutine have popped up each featuring at least one vegetarian gravy, including one of my favourites, black peppercorn gravy.

My only issue is the fried potatoes. It was for this reason that we didn’t have this dish often. It was a treat.

That is, until I invested in my T-Fal Actifry. I had my doubts, but it did not disappoint. The fries look and taste fried and are cooked in only 3 tablespoons of canola oil (yes, I upped the fat content, but not by much and the difference results in a close replica of the real thing). Enough to convince my mother to buy one.

So, with the deep fried element eliminated, we are definitely enjoying this beloved favourite more often and without the guilt!

I make a number of different types of gravies: mushroom, tamari, nutritional yeast, and they are all delicious. Amongst my favourites is the mushroom gravy, but I don’t always have mushrooms at hand in my pantry. So, I set out to create an onion and black peppercorn gravy. There are no shortages of onions in my pantry.

Upon his first bite, my husband uttered while still chewing, “This is even better than your mushroom gravy”. Definitely more neutral, but unquestionably full of flavour.

The only challenge was creating a gravy that wasn’t too sweet, not an easy feat when onions are the star attraction. That’s where the peppercorn comes in. Coupled with just stopping short of caramelizing the onions, plus the robust woody rosemary and the touch of white wine, they offset the sweetness of the onions to create a flavourful and creamy gravy to rival anything out there. Call me crazy, but I think it’s better than the real thing.

To complete the dish, I topped it with fresh spinach and diced tomatoes, which when combined with the fries, curds, and especially the gravy, provide a burst of freshness and manage to complete the meal.

Come on Fall! Come on rich comfort food (but not too rich)!

Makes 4 cups (enough for 6 lbs of potatoes)
Serves 3 -4


Olive oil ½ cup
Onion, Spanish, large, roughly sliced 1
Leek, roughly sliced 1
Shallot, roughly sliced 1
Garlic, cloves, sliced 3
Black pepper
Rosemary, sprigs, fresh, stem removed 2
Flour 1/3 cup
Wine, white 1/3 cup
Broth 3 cups
Potatoes, cut into French fries 6 lbs
Olive oil 9 tbsp (3 tbsp per 2 lb of potatoes, if using T-fal Actifry)
Cheese curds 500 g
Spinach, baby
Tomato, large, diced 1


  1. For the potatoes, wash, dry, and hand cut potatoes into French fries. Place potatoes on a paper towel and dry thoroughly. Place in T-fal fryer. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil (per 2 lb of potatoes) and season with salt and black pepper. Set timer for 45 minutes. Alternatively, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until potatoes are golden brown. You’ll need more olive oil if using this method.
  2. To make the gravy, in a medium pot, heat olive oil.
  3. Add Spanish onion, leek, and shallot and cook for 10-12 minutes until onions are translucent, but not caramelized.
  4. Add garlic, salt, black pepper, and rosemary and cook for a couple minutes more until garlic is fragrant.
  5. Remove pot from heat. Scoop onion mixture into a food processor and process until thoroughly combined and smooth. This step is important to avoid a chunky gravy.
  6. Return onion mixture to pot. After a couple minutes, add flour and thoroughly combine. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add wine to deglaze.
  8. Once the wine has evaporated, one ladle at a time, whisk in the broth until the gravy becomes smooth and creamy.
  9. Adjust seasoning adding salt and black pepper to taste. I really like black pepper, so am quite generous with it. Just keep tasting as you go along to get it right for you. Simmer gravy for 3-4 more minutes until the consistency is to your liking.
  10. To assemble, divide potatoes into 3-4 portions. Divide the cheese curds between the portions. Pour gravy over French fries and curds. Top with spinach and tomatoes.