This past weekend my coworker threw a birthday party for her two-year-old son. Earlier in the week we spent some time finding invitations (um, am I the only one who’s never heard of the Backyardigans?) and more importantly, figuring out food. It was a 2pm party, which is kinda an awkward time.
How many meals have you had by 2pm on a Saturday? Would you have eaten breakfast? Breakfast and lunch? Lunch? Brunch? Nothing?
Also, what would you expect food-wise for a 2pm child’s birthday party? Just chips? Sandwiches? Just cake?
My coworker decided on bite-size, semi-substantial fare. Whatever that means. Well, actually, I can tell you exactly what it means: Chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A, burger sliders (very impressed she found mini-potato rolls), waffle fries (frozen), spinach and artichoke dip (with pita chips and tortilla chips) and some party punch thing where she dumped a bucket of sherbet-like stuff into a bowl with Sprite. Oh, and of course cake (with Backyardigan decorations) and little ice cream cups.
We also wanted to serve a more grown-up side. That’s where I came in. She initially thought of a pasta salad type dish, but wanted something a bit different. Couscous! Still a side, but a bit more refined than pasta salad. Plus, I had a few winter vegetables that would be a much better fit for a grain than for pasta. (I think sweet potato and noodles are a bit much.)
Parsnip, Sweet Potato and Cabbage Couscous Salad
In the most unoriginal sentiment of all time, I really hate doing dishes. Sure, once I get going it’s not all that bad, but dirtying just one more pan is fairly painful. That being said, I used just one pan—three times—for this dish.
I peeled and cubed/quartered one large sweet potato and one parsnip. I only had room for one vegetable at a time, so I let each cook with oil, salt and pepper until they were soft and browned. Then in the same pan I cooked down some cabbage and garlic, with oil, salt and pepper. I also cut up some scallions for freshness and bite.
I found whole wheat couscous in the bulk bins at Yes Organic Market and my crap, couscous is easy to make. I’m not the biggest fan of this tiniest grain. I like plenty of grains better, but because this is so stinkin’ easy too cook, I’ll probably be going in this direction a lot this summer. The whole wheat-ness is a plus, but the no-hands and quick cooking make it especially attractive.
I poured 1 cup of couscous in a large glass bowl, and in following Clotilde’s advice, drizzled a bit of oil on the dried grains. Then I poured in 1 cup of boiling water over top and covered it with plastic wrap. Eleven minutes later I removed the plastic and fluffed it with a fork. Done and done.
While the couscous was “cooking” I crumbed a bunch of feta over the vegetables. Of course this needed cheese!
I mixed together the couscous and the vegetables and feta together and dressed it with a quick mix of oil and ramp vinegar, salt and pepper. But I’m sure you could use any other vinegar, maybe red wine or rice, or a lemon.