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Coconut Cilantro Couscous from Choosing Sides

Sometimes I think the lapsed vegetarian in me is also the lazy vegetarian.

Apart from the easiest dinner—which is cheese, crackers, and wine—I’m frequently more than happy to just eat a big plate of veggies for my meal and call it a night.

That’s not to say, sadly, that I tend to get too creative with my choices. Spinach over grains. A baked potato covered in salsa and sour cream. The occasional kitchen-sink (er, crisper drawer) pasta primavera.

Choosing Sides book cover

I get it. It’s easy to fall back on your tried-and-true, pull-together menu options. It’s even more daunting when you have to feed people other than yourself.

Author Tara Mataraza Desmond knows this too, which is why she’s gone ahead and given us 130 (!) different ways to get out of our recipe rut with the cookbook Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal.

coconut cilantro couscous
Photo: Casey Barber

Choosing Sides definitively answers the age-old question, “OK, what else am I gonna make?”

With chapters smartly divided into themes like “weeknight dinners” or “potlucks and parties,” the book pre-empts the issue of what to bring to the next group get-together or how to mix up your menu for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Though they may have been conceived as sides, many of these accompaniments can more than stand on their own as the centerpiece to a meal.

coconut cilantro couscous
Photo: Casey Barber

Hearty grains like bulgur with apricots, golden raisins, and pistachios or one-pot dishes like coconut cilantro couscous (recipe below) don’t even need a meat pairing; they’d do well with any of Desmond’s suggestions for green salads and slaws.

And a side of her Northern Girl herbed biscuits: as a Northerner myself, I’m sold on her tuck-and-fold method as a shortcut to an impressively flaky rise.

roasted root vegetables
Photo: Casey Barber

And for those of us who like to mull over the Thanksgiving menu for months in advance (I did an informal Facebook poll, I know you’re out there, my fellow planning freaks), this cookbook will send your creative juices into overdrive.

I mean, what is Thanksgiving but an opportunity to eat sides all day long?

This year, my buffet will feature a platter mounded high with Choosing Sidesroasted roots and fruits with cider butter: a gorgeous mix of parsnips, carrots, apples, and pears tossed with a sweet and tangy butter glaze.

sugared cranberry salad
Photo: Casey Barber

On the side, because I always need a little crunch to offset my spread of mashed potatoes and stuffing, will be a simple bowl of arugula with sugared cranberries and pancetta.

Truth: the sugared cranberries alone are a snack in themselves. Make a double batch and sneak them while you’re setting the table.

coconut cilantro couscous
Photo: Casey Barber

But for a regular weeknight, try the recipe for coconut cilantro couscous below.

You won’t taste the coconut flavor unless you’re looking for it, and it pairs amazingly with everything from grilled chicken or pork to a vegetarian protein like chickpeas.

Coconut Cilantro Couscous
Coconut Cilantro Couscous

Coconut Cilantro Couscous

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

This one-pot creamy Asian-inspired coconut cilantro couscous, from the book Choosing Sides, is a side dish that goes with any main meal.


  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 13.5-ounce can light coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper or smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves


  1. Heat a 2- to 3-quart deep sauté pan over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, until you can feel heat rising from the bottom of the pan when you place your hand over it.
  2. Add the couscous to the dry pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes to toast the couscous until golden brown. As Tara notes in the book, it will give the most heavenly “baking bread” aroma as it toasts.
  3. Stir in the coconut milk, water, salt, pepper, and cayenne or paprika.
  4. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low.
  5. Simmer the couscous for about 15 minutes, until it is tender and has absorbed most but not all of the coconut milk. You still want a creamy sauce binding the couscous.
  6. Stir in the cilantro and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 123Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 274mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 3g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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  1. Yum! I can’t wait to give that cous cous a try. In the fall, I find myself going back to butternut squash as a main dish… With quinoa, tossed in a salad, or even just roasted with apples. And… Now I am craving some squash. :)

  2. Before I learned how to cook, I routinely ate boxed rice pilaf mixes for dinner, sometimes jazzed up with a little broccoli or carrots. Occasionally I still do, but now I can make the rice myself.
    Regardless, I firmly consider this a full meal. What else do you need?

  3. I can quite happily make a meal out of refried beans or mashed potatoes at any time. Don’t need anything else at all, just a big bowl of piping hot, creamy beans or potatoes. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s glorious. That roasted root and fruit side dish? CALLING MY NAME.

  4. This is perfect! I love how few ingredients go into it but that it sounds like so much of a better alternative than the typical heavy Turkey Day sides. Can’t wait to add it to this year’s menu!

  5. Can gravy be a side dish? Just kidding (kinda of). I can devour a side dish of refried beans like nobody’s business and have known to make it my entire meal.

  6. There are probably a lot of side dishes that I could eat as a main dish, but I’m so into the stuffing/dressing on Thanksgiving that if there was no Turkey, I probably wouldn’t even notice.

  7. Stuffing…. the next day for breakfast we make a strata with the stuffing as a base add eggs and cheese… oh my is it good!

  8. I pinned the story about Walla Walla Wines because I’m from WW!
    Love the story… we have great rich wines!

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