A few weeks ago Near East asked me if I’d like to be a part of their Couscous for a Cause dinner campaign, an effort to raise awareness of hunger in Washington state. By hosting a Near East sponsored dinner party, the company would donate 250 boxes of couscous to Northwest Harvest, Washington’s hunger relief agency.
Of course I did.
I am always behind a heartened cause.
Now, I’m not very brand loyal when it comes to food. In most cases I find generics, store brands and the like, to suit my tastes just as well as the big labels. Racking my brain now for ones I swear by, only a handful of brands come to mind: Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, Bonne Maman raspberry preserves, and then, Near East. The thing is, my mother has been buying the line for years. Different flavors, different pilafs, but always this brand. It’s nostalgic to me in the same way Drake’s Ring Dings and Yodels are. The best kind of taste memory.
Maybe you buy it already. Maybe you love it too. Maybe you’re loyal to another grain. Maybe you want me to stop starting sentences with the same ‘m’ word*.
A dinner party was planned.
Seattle is just starting to dry off and freshen up, so it seemed only appropriate to eat outside on the roof deck. More appropriate than, say, when I decided to try Thanksgiving outside. Daniel, get over it.
I marinated beef sirloin in an herby, lemon olive oil, then grilled it to a hot pink center, sliced it thinly, and served it over a wildly flavorful Greek couscous salad with feta, fresh lemon, zucchini, and parsley. On the side, grilled sweet red onions, zucchini, and summer squash.
We wined, we dined, we laughed. We listened as Daniel shared anecdotes about me and my penchant for sitting on counter tops, tucking my sweatshirt into my pajama bottoms, and using my sleeve as a cozy for a pint of ice cream.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
But the meal.
The steak was juicy and tender. Charred and crusted from the open flames of the grill, with the rosiest, most satiny middles. Marinating is the only way to go.
The couscous was the best part. I began with Near East couscous, which practically cooked and fluffed itself in five minutes, and then added fresh lemon juice and zest, a heavy palmful of minced parsley and scallions, and let it chill in the fridge for the flavors to blend.
For the first time in a while (fib: ever), I laid out a tablecloth: beachy white, with bright Mediterranean linen napkins. I wrapped each in a shiny silver napkin ring that my mother sent me from Crate and Barrel.
This dinner was a joy. Thanks to Near East for sending me a couscous care package, and thanks for allowing me to buy local, grass-fed beef and fresh organic produce to celebrate with my nearest and dearest. Food means so much to me, and I know, to you, too.