Can we talk about the tyranny of 5-ingredient recipes? I mean, what line of bullshit have we swallowed that makes us think that limiting a recipe to just five ingredients will make our lives better, simpler, or “down right irresistible?” Don’t get me wrong: we all know that the essence of good cooking is restraint. But to arbitrarily limit ourselves to only five ingredients (not counting salt, pepper, water, a splash of olive oil, a dash of lemon, a…..) out of some bizarre belief that the cooking will be easier, faster, better if we simply lop a few ingredients off the list: it’s pathological.
Now, there are some perfectly lovely recipes with basically five ingredients. But if a recipes touts itself as “only 5 ingredients!!!” (at least three exclamation points is mandatory: what we sacrifice in diversity and flavor, we make up for in exclamatory punctuation) then I assume that limiting the ingredient list to five ingredients, not appropriately balancing the dish for ideal flavor, was the main priority of the recipe. Much like the way that I become immediately disinterested in a recipe that trumpets its “raw, vegan, and gluten-free!” qualities: because I assume that those are the critical parts of the recipe – adhering to a specific dietary regimen – rather than maximizing taste.
This is why you’ll rarely hear me going on about how healthy a dish is; because, while this salad is extremely good for you (whole grains, vegetables, ferments, citrus, fiber, color, blah, blah, blah), there is this impression out there that unhealthy = delicious, a belief that unfortunately works hand-in-hand with the more pernicious idea that healthy = not delicious. Which is about as bullshit as thinking that once you drop all those pesky 7- and 8- and (gasp!) 10-ingredient recipes from your repertoire, your cooking will magically become ordered, easy, and down right irresistible.
Just like there are lovely five-ingredient recipes out there, there are plenty of wonderful and delicious recipes that are also good for you. This salad, with its – count ’em – 13 ingredients!!!, is one of them. So, thumb your nose at the pernicious 5-ingredient cute & fuzzy bunnies and give this one a go.
- 1 cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
- ½ tsp fennel seed
- 2 dried red chiles, chopped (reserve seeds)
- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 3 stalks celery, with leaves, thinly sliced
- 3 stalks fennel fronds, thinly sliced
- about 2 cups chopped red cabbage
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- about 20 preserved kumquat halves, unrinsed
- splash of olive oil
- juice of 1 small lemon (I used Meyer)
- freshly ground black pepper
- To a medium skillet add the couscous, fennel seed and chiles. Toast over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, until the couscous turns golden and is very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add water and salt; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until water is nearly absorbed and couscous is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse immediately in cold water to stop cooking. Allow to strain while you prep the remaining ingredients.
- In a large bowl, combine the celery, fennel, cabbage, onion and kumquats. Toss to mix. Shake the couscous to remove all excess water and add to the bowl. Add a generous splash of olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss, then taste and adjust seasonings, adding freshly ground black pepper, salt or chile pepper seeds as necessary. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Serves 4 – 6.
- You could substitute fresh kumquats for the preserved, although you might want to use fewer so they don’t overwhelm the dish. You could even toss them into the couscous in the last minute or two of cooking time to wilt slightly and infuse the grains with citrus flavor.
- The couscous picks up a lot of heat from the chiles. I used three Arbol chiles, and the couscous is pretty spicy. Adjust accordingly.
Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. The couscous will get pinker and pinker, stained by the red cabbage, as time goes on.