Here is yet another inexpensive meal which you can make—and make ahead—with or without meat; the version here uses red beans as the protein and “veges” out on cauliflower, eggplant, and tomatoes. Eggplant used to be so bitter that an extended salting and sweating was required; as Rachael Ray pointed out recently, “the bitterness has been bred out of eggplant,” so just a light salting of the cubed flesh followed by a rinse and squeeze in a clean kitchen towel will make this versatile nightshade the star of your dish!
While recipes of this kind are usually made with pasta, I’ve substituted pearl couscous. The wee globules soak up the sauce and, if you can find barley couscous and subtract the cheese, you’ve got a gluten-free version.
Melange has protein, fiber, flavor, and veggies…and leftovers happily freeze when sealed into their container with cling wrap to avoid freezer burn. Defrost in frig overnight before re-heating on stove top. It’s best not reanimated in the microwave, where it can…never mind, just heat it up on the stove.
You can use red or black or pinto beans—any of the small, dark hearty varieties will do equally well. I tend to use dried beans, soaked overnight and then brought to a boil, simmered, and rinsed. Here’s a tip: if using dried rather than canned beans, add fennel seeds to the water and your kitchen will smell fragrant rather than funky; I’d like to think that the fennel—related to anise, a known digestif—infused into the beans actually makes them easier to digest!
Similarly, if you need to parboil the cauliflower, do it in a double boiler and, as soon as the florets begin to steam, sprinkle with allspice; this removes the cauliflower aroma from your kitchen and sets the florets up to flourish in whatever dish you add them to.
- 1 cup pearl couscous
- 1 medium eggplant
- 3-5 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed or chopped
- 1 15 oz can petite diced tomatoes
- ½ head of cauliflower, cut into florets
- 2 tsp allspice
- ¾ cup red beans, final quantity
- 2 tsp fennel seed
- 3-5 slices Provolone
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground chipotle chile
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning or
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp sage
- Prepare couscous according to package directions.
- After prepping eggplant, add to 3 Tbsp olive oil and saute until just starting to brown. After about a minute, add remainder of olive oil.
- Add tomatoes and garlic and simmer for c. 5 minutes.
- Add beans and herbs and simmer for c. 5 more minutes.
- Add cauliflower and simmer for another 5 minutes. These are approximations; no need to set a timer!
- Tear strips of Provolone slices into dish or onto individual servings (I prefer the latter); top with light dusting of Parmesan.
- Serve over couscous or mix couscous into the melange.
The salt in the Provolone and Parmesan means you should try the dish without added salt. This goes against most prep advice, which counsels adding s+p as you go, but I find that the strong fennel and allspice flavors along with the natural salt in both cheeses makes it unnecessary to add salt. Which only means that you can add it at the end if it’s too bland for you the first time…and then add it to the cooking process when you make the dish next time!