Humble Pantry Couscous 9

The man walked in with jeans so tight they left nothing to your imagination. And this was before the days when “Metro Sexual” arrived full bore on my college campus. He had long, well groomed hair, and a slight flick to his wrist. I watched as he walked to the front of the classroom, dropped his bag, and turned to sit on the desk facing the class. It has always been surprising to me when men cross their legs like women, but apparently some find it as comfortable as we do.

TV Advertisement 101. I had arrived. Somewhere between the professors wedding ring and his children I learned my first impression was not so on point. But this wouldn’t be the only first impression he put to rest. Near the middle of our month long class, he put on a commercial:


A haggard looking woman pushed her way through restaurant after crowded fast food restaurant, swiping handfuls of ketchup packets. She shoved them into her bulging pockets. Several packets spilled from her grip onto the floor and she looked panicked.

The scene cut to an apartment and a single pot on a worn stove. The same woman now wore a fraying sweater. She squeezed packet after packet into the pot. The pile of empty wrappers grew beside her. After a while she added water, turned on the heat, and let it simmer.

The scene cut to a kitchen table, two miss-matched bowls, and two little heads just above them. The woman was dividing her ketchup soup equally between the two bowls.


I think of this commercial often. Particularly near the end of the month, when I find myself standing in front of my pantry trying to concoct a meal. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you’re looking at a bunch of cans and dreaming about fresh zucchini, sliced, salted, and grilled. But the question is, how do you choose to see your pantry? Is your cup half full?

I’m a half full kind of girl. Normally a can of corn has a dull, lifeless flavor. But by roasting it, you bring back some of the natural sugar and develop a deep nutty flavor. And the roasting of canned goods doesn’t have to stop with corn. Roast garbanzo beans in the oven with a generous sprinkling of spices and you’ll discover a crunchy bite you can’t resist. Toss the two roasted goodies with some light and fluffy couscous and you’ll discover it’s not how humble the ingredients are, but what you do with them that matters.

Humble Pantry Couscous
Serves 4 (or more depending on how much good stuff you add)

I made this with what I had on hand, but you could add anything you like. Fresh or canned tomatoes, raw or sautéed onion, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, leftover sausage or chicken would all be fabulous. For a sweeter take on pantry couscous, you could try strained canned fruit, a handful of toasted nuts, and a handful of dried fruit such as raisins.

1 – 15.5 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ TBS olive oil
1 TBS butter (or olive oil)
1 – 15.25 ounce can corn, rinsed and drained
1 cup water (or chicken stock if you have it)
1 cup couscous
2 TBS lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss garbanzo beans with oregano, basil, cayenne, salt and pepper, and olive oil on a rimmed cookie sheet.
Note: To cut down on clean up time, cover cookie sheet with a piece of tinfoil.

Bake garbanzo beans for 15 – 20 minutes, shaking every five minutes until golden and crispy.

Heat butter in a fry pan on medium-high heat. Add corn. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Allow corn to brown for 7-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Note: The corn will pop and sizzle. You might worry about it burning and be tempted to over stir it. Don’t. You want the corn to turn a deep yellow color, with some browned edges here and there. To get that you have to let the corn and heat do their thing.

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Season with salt to taste. Add couscous, remove from heat and cover with a lid. Allow to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

In a large bowl combine couscous, garbanzo beans, corn, and lemon juice and lightly toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: The roasted garbanzo beans are a fabulous healthy snack all by themselves, so don’t be afraid to roast an extra can.

Recipe in print-friendly format

About Mikaela Cowles

I’m a food-gobbling, book-reading, aspiring photog. Born and raised in Seattle, I love dancing in the rain, bouquets of fresh basil and green grass between my toes. I like how kneading butter into flour makes my fingers soft. I’m passionate about all things sweet potato. I prefer my coffee black, my scotch on the rocks and my steak bloody. I hunt, when I have time; play basketball; and hike. I’ve been known to laugh so hard I hyperventilate. And, I’m the owner of Making Language Count, a boutique freelance writing business.

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9 thoughts on “Humble Pantry Couscous

  • Jessica R Esperanza

    I make a couscous and garbanzo bean salad that I love (and which often shows up towards the end of the week when money is tight) and I think your idea of roasting the beans will make it all the better. Though I think I will wait to try this once the temperatures get out of the hundreds here! Thanks for the idea.
    P.S. sorry I was MIA for a while, in response to your comment I think you would also enjoy “The Language of Baklava” by Diana Abu-Jaber, and “Tastes Like Cuba” by Eduardo MAchado, two of my favorites!

    • admin Post author

      Thanks Jessica – I’ve read “The Language of Baklava” and LOVED it, but I’m definitely going to pick up “Tastes Like Cuba.” I have a road trip this weekend and I need a good book 😉

  • Kristen

    It’s always good to have a pocket full of recipes that work when the pantry starts to get bare. Roasting canned veggies sounds brilliant for bringing in more flavor. This recipe sounds like a winner.

  • Maureen

    I really enjoy couscous and love it with anything cooked in my tagine. I’ve never tried roasting a canned vegetable before but you can bet your boots I’ll try it now. Thanks!