Meatless Monday—How About Vegetable Couscous?

INTERESTING PIECE ON NPR THIS MORNING about how meat played an important evolutionary role in making our brains bigger—and us smarter. (Cooking did, too, by breaking down nutrients so the body could absorb them more effectively.)
 
Of course, what was good for evolution isn’t necessarily good for us now, given that we have a vastly different lifestyle from early Homo sapiens. (Not much chasing down of wildebeest.) This far down the evolutionary road, we’ve gone a little overboard with the meat, eating on average half a pound a day, a quantity that’s not so healthy, studies show (especially if it’s red or processed meats)—and that well exceeds any protein needs we might have.
 
Eating less meat is part of what makes a traditional Mediterranean diet more healthy, of course. If it seems hard to get there from here, Meatless Monday is one way to take a step in the right direction. The public awareness campaign was created in 2003 by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a goal of reducing people’s meat consumption by 15% “in order to improve your personal health and the health of the planet.” Monday was chosen as a good day for setting a pattern for the whole week.
 
Food editors and bloggers jumped on board, providing recipes for meatless dishes in their various publications. Chefs have, too. Mario Batali, who’s been called “Meat’s Best Friend”—two of his restaurants are Bar Jamon and Carnevino—announced that all 14 of his restaurants would feature two meatless dishes every Monday. Wolfgang Puck launched Meatless Mondays at his Pizzeria & Cucina in Las Vegas. And less surprisingly, given the proven health benefits, hospitals and schools have signed on.
 
You can, too. The Meatless Monday website publishes new recipes every Monday. Or you can choose your own favorite meatless main dish.
 
Mediterraneanista’s Meatless Monday pick for today is a North African vegetable stew that’s a favorite in our family:
 
Couscous with Vegetables

Adapted from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman
 
Serves 4

Takes 1 hour (with precooked or canned chickpeas)


 
4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 or 2 large onions, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped

salt and black pepper to taste

1 tbs peeled and minced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/8 tsp cayenne, or to taste

1 tsp ground coriander

3 cloves

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 medium carrots, roughly chopped

1 lb winter squash, like butternut or pumpkin, trimmed and cut into chunks

2 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

vegetable stock or water

2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas
1/2 cup raisins
couscous, prepared according to directions


 
1. Prepare the ginger, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, cloves and cinnamon in a small prep bowl. Set aside. Put the olive oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole with a lid over medium heat. A minute or two later, add the onions and bell pepper, along with a couple of pinches of salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper (you should really taste the pepper in this dish). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are quite tender, about 10 minutes. Add the spices and stir.


 
2. Add the carrots, winter squash and zucchini, along with a cup of stock. Turn the heat to low, cover and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers steadily. Cook until the carrots are tender, 20 to 30 minutes, checking and adding a bit more liquid if the mixture is drying out. Add the chickpeas and raisins and cook for another 10 minutes, adding liquid if the mixture is dry, raising the heat and boiling some of it off if the mixture seems too soupy (it should be like a stew).


 
3. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the flavors of black pepper and cayenne should be pronounced. Serve immediately over the couscous.