When I was a child, I had the quirky habit of wearing dance costumes everywhere. The grocery store was meant to be enjoyed in a glitter-gilded lion’s costume. The playground was best appreciated while donning a purple and pink tulle phenomenon. My favorite memory (one that has been immortalized in photograph, no less) is wearing a maid’s costume from a recent tap dancing routine … to the Renaissance Fair. I was about five years old, proudly decked out in black and white shiny satin, complete with a lace-trimmed apron, only I wielded a massive turkey leg in place of a feather duster.
I still prefer turkey legs to feather dusters. I also continue to work at making ordinary moments and days spectacular through adding a touch of whimsy to them. While dance costumes are no longer that source of novelty, many other things elevate a mundane day to something special: laughing while running through the rain, taking the time to have a real conversation with a stranger and cooking something with flair.
Couscous on its own is about as charismatic as a documentary on the life of the fruit fly. But when married with smoky grilled vegetables and an intense, satiny balsamic reduction sauce, it becomes positively magnetic. Like a dance costume at the grocery store, it is a playful celebration of life on a plate that you can relish with all the delight of a child devouring a turkey leg.
Nurture your whimsical, childlike creativity and make this knockout couscous for your next cookout as a vegetarian-friendly entree or stunning side dish. Dance costumes optional.
Grilled Vegetable Couscous with Balsamic Reduction
1 medium red, orange or yellow bell pepper, cut into large pieces (I sit the pepper upright and cut each side off, then cut the bottom off to have five relatively-flat pieces)
1 red onion, sliced in 1/2 inch rings
2 ears of corn, shucked
3/4 cup couscous
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing grill
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high and brush with vegetable oil. Coat vegetables with vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Once grill is hot, grill vegetables for about 3 minutes on each side, until grill marks are present and they are beginning to soften. For corn, rotate every 2 minutes until all sides are grilled. While vegetables are grilling, heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add balsamic vinegar, honey and red pepper flakes and simmer stirring frequently, until thickened to the consistency of chocolate sauce, about 10 minutes. Heat a second saucepan to medium, add couscous and water, bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat. After 5 minutes, fluff couscous with a fork and season to taste with salt and pepper. Both the couscous and balsamic reduction can be done with grill-safe saucepans, cooked on the edges of the grill, off direct flame. Once vegetables are grilled, chop into inch-sized pieces and cut the corn off of the cob. Toss with the couscous and basil until combined. Serve the fluffy couscous and vegetables piled in the middle of a plate or platter, and drizzle with that glossy, sweet and spicy balsamic reduction sauce. For extra flair, drizzle the balsamic syrup in rings around the couscous.
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The Rev. Whitney Wilkinson is pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church.