Mediterranean beans with couscous

I wanted to call these the Bittman-inspired rice and beans, but the name is kind of a misnomer. This is actually couscous and beans. The reason for the temptation is that Mark Bittman, the New York Times’ food guru, has taken a liking to this matrix concept of recipe writing for the Sunday magazine.

He takes a simple concept, like rice and beans, and then shows you how to dress it up and change it a bunch of ways to make a matrix of possibilities. One row may show how you can change up the carbs, the other how you can mix up the spices. I’m a skeptic, because I worry that he may confine himself by oversimplifying everything into a chart.

But in the most recent issue, which was all about food, Bittman created a matrix for hosting dinner parties that centered on how you can transport the same ingredients into a regional cuisine simply by making slight tweaks. It was quite impressive.

So after reading the magazine, I stood over a pot of chicken and rice and thought about what I should do with it. Eyeing a bag of mint that I recently dried (by simply leaving it out), I decided to go Mediterranean. Substitute couscous for rice, and you have a Bittman-inspired “rice and beans” variant. Recipe follows.

1. Slice a chicken breast in half and hit it with a mallet or heavy pan until it is half as thick as it was before. Sprinkle salt, pepper and 1 tb. of flour on both sides of the chicken fillet. Fry on medium heat in 1 tb. of grapeseed oil for 4 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked completely. Set aside and cover with foil to keep warm.

2. In the chicken juices, saute 1 sliced onion on medium-low heat until it is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1 chopped tomato and 1/2 cup of kidney beans, soaked overnight or out of a can. Cook until the beans are soft. The canned version will take about 10 minutes, the soaked one as much as an hour.

3. Chop up the chicken and drop it in the bean mixture. Flavor the dish with 1 tb. crushed dried mint, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to taste. Garnish with 2 tbsp. fresh parsley.

Serve with couscous, which I generally cook by boiling 1 3/4 cups of water, 1 tb. of butter and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Remove from heat, stir in 1 cup of uncooked couscous, put a lid on it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Open the pot, and stir with a fork to separate the grains.

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