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Alimentary, My Dear

Fast Food Under Way —
Egg and Couscous Sauté
Fast Food

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

October 16, 2012

I like to eat. That won't come as much of a surprise to any readers who've been following "Alimentary, My Dear" since its inception more than a decade ago. And I like to cook, too. Even the years I spent working nights and weekends in my parents' greasy spoon didn't kill my interest. But as much as I enjoy preparing meals, I don't necessarily want to spend a lot of time doing it. Camp cookery is often a race against the clock, after all. I'm tired. The light is failing. My stomach is growling. I want a hearty, tasty meal — and I want it right now.

Which is why my backcountry menu file is well stocked with quick‑and‑easy dishes. And why I'm always on the lookout for more. The process usually begins at home, in what I've called — tongue wedged firmly in cheek — my Test Kitchen. I take a favorite recipe and then simplify, simplify. If things go well, the result eventually makes it onto my list of on‑the‑go favorites. The process isn't always so structured, however. Sometimes …

Serendipity Hands Me a Winner

This is one such time. A few months back, I was late getting home after a long day. I wasn't in the mood for cooking, so I foraged in the fridge to see what was on offer. There's almost always something. Having grown up in a household with too many mouths and not quite enough money, I don't throw away any scrap of food without a very good reason. The result? Leftovers form the basis for at least half my meals. This time around, my scrabblings in the dark recesses of the fridge unearthed a container of cooked brown rice, along with some shredded roast chicken. Alone, neither of my finds would have satisfied one hungry person, let alone two, but with a couple of additions — eggs and green onions were obvious choices — they had the makings of an easy meal. And sure enough, within half an hour I served up a hot sauté of eggs with rice and chicken.

How did it taste? Delicious! And to make a good thing even better, it showed real promise as an addition to my camping menu, as well. Of course, I wouldn't be using refrigerated leftovers in camp, but I figured a little tinkering with the recipe would yield a savory hot meal in less than 15 minutes, and that's fast food by anyone's standard.

What's the secret behind the transformation from home to camp? Just this:

Instant Couscous

It's worth remembering that in many recipes instant couscous and rice can be freely substituted, one for the other. And instant couscous lives up to its name. It's ready to serve in little more time than it takes to bring water to a boil. To keep things simple, I'm going to drop the "instant" tag from here on out, but since I've noticed that a lot of retailers are following suit, you'll want to check the fine print on the package to make sure your couscous is really instant. There's another caveat, too: You'll need both a pot and a skillet to prepare this dish. It's quick and easy, but the duty cook has to be a bit of a juggler. Then again, what camp cook isn't?

The basic recipe is simplicity itself, and the preparation is straightforward. Anyone who can boil water or make scrambled eggs has the essential skill set. The key? Assemble your ingredients in advance, and make sure you have all your "jewelry" ready to hand.

By the numbers, now…

  1. Bring water to a rolling boil in a pot.
  2. Stir in instant couscous.
  3. Cover the pot, remove it from the stove (or fire), and leave the couscous to steam. A warm spot is best.
  4. Scramble eggs in a lightly oiled skillet (a nonstick pan makes cleanup easier). Don't overcook the eggs. A couple of minutes is all it takes.
  5. Remove the skillet from the flame.
  6. Fluff the steamed couscous with a fork, and then …
  7. Stir in the scrambled eggs.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve.

What did I tell you? It's simple and good. And fast. But that doesn't mean you can't …

Make a Good Thing Even Better

And you can do it without spending too much more time at the stove. In my Test Kitchen trials, I took my departure from my original eggs‑rice‑chicken sauté recipe. Here's where I ended up:

 


 

Egg and Couscous Sauté with Lime and Chicken

How many does it serve? Three paddlers — two, if they're very hungry. And what if there are more of you? Then just double or triple the amounts shown below. (I hope you have a big pot!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups liquid (water or chicken broth)
  • 1 cup instant couscous
  • Canned (or freeze‑dried or shelf‑stable) chicken and juices
     
  • Extra‑virgin olive oil
  • 2 green onions, sliced thin, OR a small yellow onion, diced fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 fresh eggs, whisked (use a fork or a mini‑whisk)
  • Salt and pepper
     
  • Fresh lime or reconstituted lime juice
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Be prepared to work fast. Have all your ingredients at your elbow and a couple of cleared places near the fire (or stove) for your utensils and the hot pot of couscous.

OK. The clock has started. Bring water or chicken broth to a boil in a large pot — if using freeze‑dried chicken add it at the start, and add a little extra water, too — then stir in the couscous and canned chicken, cover the pot, and remove from the stove. Set to one side.

While the couscous steams, whisk the eggs together in a cup. Next, drizzle olive oil into a nonstick pan and place over a medium‑high flame. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until soft and fragrant. Don't allow the onion and garlic to brown or, worse yet, burn. Now pour the whisked egg over the onion and garlic, wait for the egg to start to set, and then push it from the rim of the pan toward the center, exposing any uncooked egg to the heat. Continue until all of the egg is (just) cooked through. At this point, remove the skillet from the heat.

Drizzle a little more olive oil into the steamed couscous and chicken. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Slide the eggs into the pot. Stir. Now squeeze lime juice over the eggs and couscous and add some grated Parmesan cheese. How much juice and cheese, you ask? That's up to you. I use the juice from a whole lime and about ¼ cup of cheese. Finally, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir once more. Dinner's served!

Want a meatless meal? Then just leave out the chicken (and the chicken broth, too, of course).

 


 

The end product? I added a garnish of Parmesan before snapping this picture:

Come and Get It!

With or without the chicken, it's a flavorful and nutritious meal, yet it still comes together quickly. And it's just a beginning. The basic recipe is easily modified. Here are some ideas:

Ring the changes.  Turkey, ham, beef, sausage, potted meat, tuna, or salmon, in any form: canned, shelf‑stable pack, dried, or freeze‑dried. All of these can be substituted for chicken. But remember to add dried or freeze‑dried meat to the water or broth before the pot goes on the flame. Could you also use fresh meat? Sure. The meal would no longer be quick and easy, however, since you'd have to cook the meat first.

Add vegetables.  Carrots, onions, peas, or corn… It's your call. If you're using fresh carrots, shred or slice them very thin so they'll cook quickly, and add them to the pot before it goes on the flame. Ditto for freeze‑dried veggies. And what about those onions? Just dice them and use them in place of the green onions in my original recipe. You can also add garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), but be sure to use canned chickpeas rather than dried — dried chickpeas take a long time to cook. If you love mushrooms, they, too, make a great addition.

More cheese, please!  You'll find a whole world of cheeses to explore. I've been meaning to try smoked Gouda, and now that I've committed my intention to virtual print, it's likely I'll follow through. There's one cheesy caveat, though: Don't add any cheese until the dish is cooked and the eggs and couscous have been mixed together. Then grate or shave the cheese and stir it in.

Fruit, anyone?  Good candidates include dried apricots, cherries, cranberries (craisins), and apples. Cut them up and toss them into the final dish — or add them to the water before boiling if you like your fruit soft. And what about fresh fruit? Well, why not?

Feeling seedy? Go nuts!  Nuts and seeds add flavor and much‑needed fiber to any camp meal. They're also nutrient‑dense. I ring the changes with pistachios, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and hazelnuts. You can, too.

Season to taste.  Dried herbs and spices will enhance almost any dish. My favorites include chives, rosemary, and thyme (but not parsley and sage). Curry powder is another addition worth considering — mild or hot, as you prefer. Sprinkle it over the onions and garlic before you pour the whisked eggs into the skillet.

Any way you look at it, this is a versatile dish, and no matter how long the trail ahead, egg and couscous sauté will help you go the distance. Ladle it into a bowl or onto a plate. You can even scoop it straight out of the pot if you want, or spoon it into pita bread. Or roll it up in a tortilla. And if you find yourself with time on your hands and an urge to linger by the fire, serve it with burgers or satays or pan‑fried trout.

Of course, fresh eggs won't keep fresh forever, though they're better travelers than many folks realize. Could you use freeze‑dried or powdered eggs, instead? I can't see why not. I haven't done so myself, however. Not yet. So if you do, please let me know how it went.

Soup's On!

Every paddler likes to eat, but not all of us like to cook. And even ardent cooks don't want to spend every minute of their time in camp squatting by a stove or tending a fire. That's why it's good to have a selection of quick‑and‑easy meals in your repertoire. Egg and Couscous Sauté fits the bill to perfection. Why not give it a try on your next trip?

 


 

Related articles from In the Same Boat

And from my own website:

 

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