When we were young, dumb and living in Milwaukee, Brian and I used to make this thing for dinner sometimes...it was couscous with lima beans, lemon, and maybe shrimp if we had gone shopping at Sendik's recently. It wasn't very good--I know we used packaged couscous and I probably bought precooked shrimp because deveining scared me--and it was just a total mess to look at. But for some reason we were really into it and made it often. Probably because it was full of melted butter and salt. When I asked Brian what he wanted for dinner on his birthday he said something about wanting shrimp couscous, which I thought was cute because it had been a really long time since I had thought of making it. So I thought about all the components and how to improve on an idea while maintaining the nostalgia.
I started with the lima beans--I actually like lima beans quite a bit although I realize they are a polarizing ingredient. I found some good looking fava beans at the market and decided they would consititute an improvement on the original so I bought about 3/4 pound of favas in the shell. Do you know how to prep fava beans? It's a pain in the ass. You get these big, green seed pod looking things and you shuck them and inside are large, pale green beans, like peas in a pod, which they basically are. Then you take each bean and skin it to reveal the bright green, delicious fava bean inside. It is time-consuming and probably explains why I don't make them very often. But they are really delicate and wonderful in flavor so it is worth it for a special occasion. After the labor of love involved in preparing fava beans, it's great to follow up with the equally annoying task of shelling and deveining shrimp--I did this with just over 1 pound of shrimp and between that and the fava beans it was a prep-work intensive meal indeed. So that was two improvements--fresh fava beans for frozen limas and fresh shrimp for precooked. Next I looked at the couscous--instead of the small grained box of yore, I toasted 2 cups of large, pearl couscous in butter until they became brown and nutty, then poured 1 ¾ cup of fresh chicken stock over the top, brought to a boil, covered and simmered until the liquid was all absorbed. After it was done cooking, kept the lid on but removed it from heat to prevent burning uintil everything else was ready to go. Minced up a ton of garlic--about 7 or 8 healthy-sized cloves. Put a shocking amount of butter (I think something like 4 tablespoons, maybe 5) to melt in a pan and added the garlic when it was sizzly, reserving about 1 clove worth. When the garlic was lightly golden and still tender, removed from the pan and set aside along with most of the butter it cooked in. Put a teensy bit more butter into the pan and added 2 zucchini that were chopped into small cubes. I made them pretty and also improved the final texture by peeling them in stripes--you know, instead of peeling them totally, just peel a strip down so you have a green-white-green-white pattern on the squash. It looks pretty and also keeps enough peel on for texture but gets rid of some of it to prevent an overwhelming peeliness when you take a bite. Then to make small zucchini chunks you cut the squash in half, then each half gets sliced into thirds. Cut the thirds crosswise into little chunks, and voila! Put the zucchini in the hot pan with the added butter and the reserved minced garlic. Sauteed over medium-high heat until the zucchini got a little golden in places, then added the fava beans, salt, pepper and about 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Cooked down until the stock was totally reduced off and the fava beans were tender, about 5 minutes. Removed from pan and set aside covered until everything else was done. Wiped out the same pan, returned to stove and added the garlic and shocking amount of butter from before. When it was heated up added the peeled, deveined shrimp. Tossed them over medium-high heat just barely until they began to get a bit opaque, about 2 minuntes. Added a teensy bit of chicken stock--probably only a few tablespoons--then when the shrimp were pinkish and pretty much done through (about 3 more minutes), added 2 tablespoons each of finely minced fresh parsley and dill. Stirred the herbs in thoroughly, then took off heat and added zest from 2 lemons and the juice. Mixed everything up together well, then put a mound of couscous on the plate, topped with the shrimp and then the fava bean-zucchini around the bottom. We had a good wine (read: not two-buck chuck)--some Argentinian wine called High Altitude which was a malbec/cabernet sauvignon.
Jeremy and Melanie came up for angel food cake later, which I did not make, but I did decorate it with whipped cream and raspberries and blueberries so at least it looked pretty. Happy birthday, Brian!