Spicy turnaround couscous

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.
~ Erma Bombeck

I owe a few things to my friend Matt: a heightened appreciation for crazy music, my big spice and herb library, and a moderate dislike of bright orange jackets, amongst other things. It is the spice and herb thing I am thinking of tonight as I write this post.

See, I grew up experiencing all sorts of food and flavours – one of the perks of growing up with a kitchen-whiz Grandma and travel-loving parents in Asia. Somehow, though, fresh herbs, dried herbs and all these wonderful things like cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika escaped my attention until 2008/9 (thanks Matt). Thereafter, I couldn’t get enough of them… well, most of them…

There was this one pretty spice, cayenne pepper, that I didn’t fancy quite so much. Probably because it set my head on fire a few times. While Matt continued to sprinkle it into a few dishes, I stayed clear of it and moved it to the back of the cupboard whenever I saw it hovering hopefully near the door. When I moved to Auckland last year, I gladly left it off the shopping list for the whole year.

Then this week happened: an army of germs descended on me like gnomes on gold – and I was in the mood only for unsexy vegetable soup and lemon + honey drinks. It hurt to blink and sleep eluded me… and one evening, in a fit of desperation, I threw open the pantry door and searched for something that would send the germs away. For some reason, there was cayenne pepper in there, and for a more bizarre reason, I reached for the red dust I had avoided for so long. I chopped up a few bits and pieces (spinach leaves, ham, garlic, onion, capsicum), threw it all into a skillet with 1/2 a can of tomatoes and shook in some cayenne pepper in a mad frenzy.

And do you know, my sore throat disappeared shortly afterwards.

    Spicy turnaround couscous
    Recommended for remedying sore throats and related cold symptoms
    Ingredients:
    1/4 cup couscous
    Olive oil
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp butter
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 capsicum
    Handful of baby spinach leaves
    100g ham, chopped
    1/2 can chopped tomatoes in juice
    Cayenne pepper – a very generous pinch, though be prepared to explode if you are not used to it
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Method:
    In a skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and fry till fragrant, then add in the garlic, cayenne pepper and capsicum and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and throw in the spinach leaves, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    In the meantime, place 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp of oil. Remove from the heat, add in the couscous, then cover and leave for 2 minutes. Uncover the saucepan, place it over very low heat, and add in a little more boiling water if the bottom of the pan looks too dry or if the couscous is sticking together. Stir in the butter, then remove from the heat again.
    Place the couscous in a bowl and spoon the cayenne-flavoured mixture on top of it. Mix well and serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.
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