You may have thought Oscar’s biggest upset last night was Meryl Streep stealing Viola Davis’s Oscar, but then clearly you weren’t at the Oscar party I attended. Our friends John and Michael invited us a week earlier and asked us to bring a dish that was a pun or play on words based on title or actor (last year, John made “Stanley Two-Cheese Dip”) and I treated the whole thing light-heartedly, polling my followers on Twitter (some good suggestions: “My Week With Maryland Crabs,” “Macarooney Mara”) before settling on the dish you see above, Glenn Cous Cous Salad with Albert Knobs of Feta.
I got the idea while flipping through Ottolenghi’s runaway success of a cookbook, Plenty. He has a recipe in there for Green Cous Cous and I think I saw that and thought, “Glen Cous Cous” and a star was born.
The recipe is so simple, there’s no need for measurements. First, prep the cous cous flavorings: caramelized onion with cumin and, in a separate preparation, an herb paste made with lots of fresh herbs and oil.
If you’re making one portion of cous cous (about one cup of cous cous, dried) use one onion. I was cooking for 15 to 20 people, so I used 3 onions which I sliced thinly and added to a pan of olive oil heated on medium heat:
Meanwhile, I toasted a tablespoon of cumin seeds and then ground them up in a spice grinder:
I used some of it to season the onions while they were cooking (along with some salt) and then more of it to season them when they were done. (They’re done when they’re golden brown.)
Meanwhile, make your herb paste. Let’s not worry about proportions (though the Ottolenghi recipe certainly does). Just grab a bunch of parsley and cilantro, cut off the leaves, chop them a few times and throw them into a blender:
Do the same with mint, dill and tarragon (though if you don’t want to break the bank, skip one or two):
There’s all the green stuff in the blender:
Add a good pour of olive, a sprinkling of salt and let that baby rip.
You may need to add more oil if it doesn’t liquify (I certainly did).
Now at this point I tasted and was underwhelmed. It tasted herby and oily but lacked pizzazz. So I added a big squeeze of lemon juice and stirred that in:
That made things better (more dressing-like).
Now here’s where I went a little overboard: I cooked five boxes of cous cous in one Dutch oven (according to package directions) thinking I’d need all that cous cous to feed a crowd.
But no, I definitely didn’t need all that cous cous. I took about half of that (which was still like 8 cups of cooked cous cous) added it to a big red bowl, broke it up with a fork, and then poured in the herb paste:
Once I worked that in with a fork, I added the onions:
And when those were worked in, I let things cool a bit before adding chopped scallions, toasted almonds (though pistachios would’ve been ideal–I couldn’t find them) and lots of crumbled feta.
Confession: I didn’t love the way it tasted when everything was added, so I adjusted with white wine vinegar and when that still didn’t do it for me, I added a big pinch or two of Sumac. That did the trick and then I was happy with my Glenn Cous Cous.
At the party, we were to label our dish with a sticky note and a magic marker:
It wasn’t until this happened that I learned this wasn’t just a fun/funny potluck, this was a serious competition. There would be voting! And a winner!
Here were some of my competitors:
(That pie should definitely win the “Most Scatological Use of Tootsie Rolls” award.)
When the voting happened, everyone wrote down their favorite dish (you could grade on deliciousness or cleverness or both) and then Michael read the results: every dish got one or two votes except for two finalists who were neck-in-neck.
I was one of those finalists! One vote for me, one vote for my competitor, one for me, one for my competitor and so on until…
My friend Brian won top prize with this:
To his credit, that pie was mighty tasty–with creamy mashed potatoes on top and a healthy mix of turkey sausage, peas and carrots underneath.
His prize was a $15 gift certificate to Yogurtland! I’m boycotting that store and yogurt forevermore. Viola Davis, I feel your pain. But on the bright side, we both have plenty of leftover cous cous. Oh wait: only I have that.
I suppose my Oscars wasn’t as bad as yours, after all.
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