Pantry Challenge

Kathryn Elliot of Limes & Lycopene is running another Pantry Challenge, inviting readers to rustle up something tasty from a list of staple ingredients.

I wasn’t able to participate last time , and was happy to see the launch of round two until I noticed she’d taken vinegar off the list! No vinegar! And no lemon juice! But I decided to do it anyway, and to do it without buying anything for the meal.

A meal from the pantry can be something knocked up in a few minutes, but that’s not the only way to make something quickly. In this case, I prepared a couple of elements in the morning and assembled it all in just a few minutes at night.

Here’s the ingredients list, with the ones I used in bold:

Mograbieh Dinner Salad

1. Olive oil

2. Tinned tomatoes
3. Tinned legumes or beans
4. Soy sauce
5. Frozen vegetables
6. Flour
7. Pasta or rice
8. Tinned fish
9. Eggs
10. Bread
11. Olives
12. Meat from the freezer
13. Fresh onions
14. One spice or spice mix
15. One dried herb or herb mix


I used a good plain olive oil, red onions and frozen edamame (soy beans). In the “pasta or rice” category, I used mograbieh. It’s also sold as “Israeli couscous”, but the grains are much bigger than couscous. Although it looks a bit like a grain, it’s a wheat-and-water pasta. When I lived in the inner west of Sydney I’d sometimes buy fresh mograbieh (with a few chickpeas in the packet) in Lakemba. The advice was to sweat a finely sliced onion, turn the mograbieh in the oil and add hot stock, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for a bit less than 15 minutes. When it’s for a salad such as this, you might want to drain (and maybe even rinse) the mograbieh to stop it being too unctuous. I didn’t use frozen meat, but only because I had some fresh meat in the fridge. Defrosted meat would be fine.

If you’re only allowed one spice blend, go straight to the “top of the shop”, ras el hanout. The name indicates that it’s the most superior blend by the big boss of the particular establishment you’re buying it from. I can remember reading in Christine Manfield’s 1995 Paramount Cooking that it was divine but unavailable in Australia. It’s now available at lots of places, including online from Herbie’s Spices in Sydney. The one I used was from Peter Watson, bought at a Portuguese deli here in Canberra, and comprising bay leaves, thyme, black peppercorns, nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds, mace, cardamom, ginger, cumin seeds, allspice, turmeric, aniseed and cayenne. If you can’t find it, or can’t be stuffed looking, you could follow Manfield’s substitution suggestion of “a mild, yellow, spicy curry powder”.


Quantities are for three adults or two adults and two smallish kids.

2 Tbsp olive oil plus extra
2-3 onions, red if you have them on hand
3 free range chicken thighs
ras el hanout or a sweet and spicy yellow curry powder
1 cup mograbieh/Israeli cous cous
375 g packet of frozen edamame
1/2 cup black olives


Generously rub ras el hanout into chicken thighs and leave them on a rack or in one of those tupperware thingies with the plastic rack inside. Don’t be stingy with the ras el hanout because this is the only seasoning in the dish and it’s got a lot of weight to carry. Leaving the chicken for five minutes is good, overnight is great. If you don’t want meat, it can also be used with tempeh or drained and pressed firm tofu. The process (and a brilliant recipe) is at Lucy’s Nourish Me. I find the fresh local tofu I get (from Shanghai Yulin at Choku Bai Jo or the EPIC Farmer’s Market) doesn’t need draining, but tofu from the supermarket or Asian grocery probably will.

Slice two or three purple onions thinly and cook them very slowly in some olive oil until they are “the colour of amber and soft enough to crush between thumb and finger“. (I ♥ Nigel Slater bad.) Of course if it’s a work night, you can just add a pinch of brown sugar and use a slightly higher heat. You’ll have fried onions rather than caramelised ones, but you’ll have dinner on the table before 9 pm which I find aids digestion and also domestic harmony. If you have time on the weekend, make a big batch and you can use them in things all through the week – in pastas, on sandwiches and pizzas, on top of grains and so on. There’s a recipe from Skye Gyngell’s A Year in My Kitchen, although you might want to read these cautionary words first ( I had the same problems that Joanna describes when I made them.)

Add measured mograbieh into a saucepan with a pinch of salt and a cup and a half of boiling water from the kettle. Cook hard for about 10 – 12 minutes, rinse and drain well.

Cook the edamame in boiling water for about 6 – 7 minutes and drain. If you’ve bought edamame in the pod, shell it and make a mental note to buy the podded sort next time.

Combine the mograbieh and edamame in a serving bowl. I like a low, wide one best. You can leave the dish in the fridge until dinner if that suits. When you’re ready, cook the chicken under the grill or in a cast iron pan in a little olive oil, rest it and slice thinly. Combine the mograbieh, edamame, caramelised onions and chicken. If there isn’t enough oil from the onions, add a little more then grind over some black pepper and serve.

If you’re not doing a “pantry challenge” in the formal sense, just making dinner out of what’s at home, you can get a bit more elaborate.

I added all the shooting tops of a coriander plant I don’t want to go to seed yet – you can use whichever of your leafy green herbs is bolting. I also added some thinly sliced radish and blanched asparagus; pretty much any veg you have in the crisper will do, but make sure the pieces are small enough to make sense with the rest of the ingredients. This time I forgot the olives, but next time will use the small semi-dried black ones we get from nearby Homeleigh Grove.

The caramelised onions mean this salad doesn’t need a dressing, particularly if you’ve remembered the olives. But I mixed a clove of garlic, a pinch of salt and the juice and rind of half a lemon into about half a cup of thick yoghurt anyway. If I’d had a ripe pomegranate, I would have sprinkled some juicy seeds over the top.

8 thoughts on “Pantry Challenge

  1. It isn’t often I think “God I wish I wasn’t going to Mum’s tonight for roast chook, then I could make this”.

    But then, I don’t think I have any of the ingredients (except onion) in my pantry or freezer, so I’d better take the roast option.

    My personal pantry challenge is to cook and eat as much as possible from our current pantry & freezer (freezer is nearly empty!) before moving house. We’ll be eating various colours of lentils every day til Christmas.

  2. What a beautiful meal Zoe. And you’ve definitely shown that a meal from the pantry doesn’t have to be second-rate!

    I recently bought some “Israeli couscous” and have been trying to work out what to do with it. I didn’t realise that was mograbieh – which I’ve seen used in recipes on a number of occasions. So glad you’ve cleared that up for me.

    And thank you for your entry to the Pantry Challenge – it’s a beauty.

  3. that looks and sounds totally drooly, especially with the thought of pomegranate. never played with edamame before, looks so fresh and tasty!

  4. I hadn’t had it before either, speedy, it’d been sitting in the freezer for ages. I did really like it, and will have it again. It is by far the best textured frozen veg. I wonder a little about eating too much of it though, as many macro/wholefoods people think that we should eat fermented soy as it’s more digestible/less toxic (Cristy posted on this recently). Also it is way bourgie, NTTAWWT.

  5. Nigel…I’ll arm-wrestle you for him.

    Yum. Yum, yum, yum, Zoe. Will you people please stop making me waver with your meaty treats? I know tofu or tempeh would (and will when I get to rubbing my tempeh with it tonight) be incredibly good with ras el hanout, but I’m craving flesh!

  6. Fabulous – who’d have thought food that’s already in the house could be so good? And thanks for the link: I don’t make Skye’s onions any more, but we eat onions three, four, maybe five times a week, so there are generally some already cooked in my fridge – as you say, useful for the next meal.


  7. ooo ta for that info, Zoe. still trying to stop The Delightful Nanna(tm) from moonlighting as The Naughtiest Little Coeliac, (by upping the variety of grains and pulses) so that sort of stuff is always useful.

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