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Cous Cous with Halloumi

It's been a busy Saturday and as usual it's got late.

It wasn't my turn to do the dinner today, but Sue is ill and so it falls to me to sort something out. Also it's the end of the Easter hols and the children are not at their best, each thinks that she may or may not go out to stay with friends - in any event I need to pull something out of the hat and in short order, so I present to you that fastest meal I can make.

I'm nervous about showing this, as if guests realized how little effort it takes they would probably be shocked and disappointed. This meal feeds four and takes 15 minutes to make from opening the cupboard to putting the finished dish on the table.

It can be squeezed into 10 minutes in a real emergency - but if things are that pushed, you probably haven't time to eat it and it deserves a little savouring.

The two main ingredients are cous-cous and halloumi.

Cous-cous is a staple, it is faster than rice to cook but can be used in similar dishes, it is only beaten by fresh pasta for speed to table, but whereas fresh pasta takes a lot of preparation or at least the forethought to have bought it that day, cous-cous can live in the store cupboard for months.

Halloumi is a Cypriot slightly minted cheese. It seems to be somewhere between Feta and Mozzarella in texture and flavour (the children knew it as "squeaky-cheese" because of the texture when bitten). It has two magic properties. The first is that it can be fried or grilled - and it doesn't melt! The second is its shelf-life. A pre-packed Halloumi bought today will have a best-before date 12 months hence, so it can be bought and stuck in the fridge until you think of something to do with it. The rest of the ingredients will be what ever you have to hand, but this is what I did.

Ingredients

250g cous-cous
250g spinach
3 onions (I used red)
6 whole mushrooms
1 small avocado
250g (1 pack) halloumi
black pepper
salt
poppy seeds
vegetable stock cube
extra virgin olive oil
500ml water
fresh herbs (whatever you have and like - I used Basil, Coriander and Mint)
Cous Cous with Halloumi

Method

NB! there are no timings for the following, the preparation of each step below is in the right order to take the least time.

Empty the spinach into the sink, cover with cold water and a tablespoonful of salt.

Put the cous-cous in a pan with 250ml boiling water from a kettle (note the pan ISN'T on the stove).

Stir in the stock cube, pepper and 1 tablespoon poppy seeds - you could use mustard seeds, and anything else you want to add to flavour the cous-cous; I often use soy sauce, yeast extract, anything...

Slice the onions into rings and put in the bottom of a heavy pan with a good slosh of oil (3 tablespoons if you must measure).

Put on a heat that will cook them rapidly but not brown them - we want them transparent not brown.

Cut the avocado in two around the seed and twist to get the seed out. Peel the halves (rather than struggling with a knife, simply take a desert spoon and prise the flesh from the "shell" as a single piece.

Slice into 5ml slices and add to the cooking onions.

Carefully clean the mushrooms and place whole into the onion and avocado mix.

Stir well to coat all with oil and leave cooking.

Slice the block of halloumi into 8 slices lengthways and either fry in a dry pan, grill or use a griddle. You need a fairly high heat to seal and brown the outside, but be alive to burning it.

Rinse the spinach and put in a large pan with a heavy lid (you will have to force it all in). Add no water and cook until the spinach is softened and the volume is about 1/4 the original - takes about 5 minutes.

While the spinach is cooking, check and turn the halloumi.

Boil another 250ml water in a kettle and add to the (now set) cous-cous, separating it with a wooden spoon and put on a low to medium heat.

Add a handful of fresh mint and a handful of fresh basil.

Stir occasionally to ensure the water mixes in and the cous-cous doesn't burn.

When the spinach is done and the cous-cous absorbed all the water, the halloumi should be ready too, as should the onions and avocado. Arrange the cous-cous round a serving dish leaving a hollow in the centre. Arrange the spinach round the hollow in an inner ring and fill the centre with the onion, mushroom and avocado mix. Place the slices of the halloumi over the top and garnish with fresh coriander.

Serve and pretend it took hours of hard work.

Dave Wardell

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