More than the particular flavor advantages of certain preserved ingredients though, I wanted to highlight them here because they serve a vital interest–they protect you, and they make it far easier to cook at home. How often have you eaten mediocre takeout because you had enough time to buy food or cook, but not both? How often have you picked up ingredients for a recipe, been delayed a couple of days in making it, and had everything go off? I’ve had both happen to me with embarrassing frequency. And then there are days like today, when the snow comes down by the bucketful and the grocery store is a long trudge away. With a well-stocked pantry, as in the days of old, you can be secure in the knowledge that you’ll always be able to feed yourself. When you have fresh ingredients available, they can play starring roles, supported by what you have in the cupboard. And when you don’t, like today, you can still turn out a delicious, healthy meal entirely out of things you can keep on hand indefinitely.
- Place mushrooms into any small bowl or container which you have a second one of. Cover with warm water, place the second bowl into the first, and put something in the second bowl to serve as a weight, such as a can of beans . Soak for roughly 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and pliable to the touch. (if you can’t do this setup, feel free to weight the mushrooms down another way, or just let soak longer and stir regularly).
- When mushrooms are ready, drain through a strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the soaking liquid. Wash mushrooms thoroughly to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and reserve.
- Grind the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a spice grinder/coffee grinder and reserve. If desired, quickly toast the seeds before grinding in the toaster oven or a dry pan, but be careful not to burn them.
- Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the za’atar, five spice powder, pepper flakes, and paprika and heat for approximately one minute to infuse the oil. If using the onions, add at this stage and stir regularly until they begins to caramelize. Otherwise proceed directly to step 5.
- Increase heat to medium high and add the chickpeas. Salt and stir frequently until they begin to brown and crisp.
- Add a splash of vinegar and scrape to deglaze the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until juices begin to bubble out and they taste cooked through. When this process is almost complete, add 1 tbsp of butter and stir well to coat.
- Add the sherry and scrape thoroughly to deglaze. Add the mushroom liquid, some or all of the chickpea soaking liquid (I went with roughly two ounces), and the crushed tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and maintain a steady simmer. Add the Worcestershire sauce, pomegranate molasses, and vinegar to taste along with salt and pepper and continue to simmer until you’re happy with the flavor and the chickpeas are tender but not disintegrated.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan or pot, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and add the ground fennel-cumin-coriander mixture. Cook stirring until fragrant, then add 2 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then add the couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand five minutes.
- When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and stir in 1 tbsp of butter, along with the almonds if using and more salt to taste. Serve mushroom-chickpea sauce over couscous and top with feta and parsley.