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How to Make Spicy Chicken Couscous Without Cooking a Damn Thing

By Dave Fox
Singapore 

It’s a simple recipe I concocted many years ago. Green and red bell peppers, an onion, fresh mint, ground chicken, garlic, salt, black pepper, and a few splashes of Tabasco. Swirl it in couscous and you have a tasty meal.

Usually, preparing this meal is not dangerous.

Usually.

I’m in the kitchen, dicing the peppers into tiny pieces with one of Kattina’s special knives. Kattina loves to cook, so she has special knives – a big block of sharp, shiny objects that will Ginsu their way through anything, including bare human feet.

I’m dicing the peppers, and what happens next is one of those moments in which your mind is operating disproportionately fast to everything else in the universe, only it feels like your mind is operating at normal speed while everything else is in slow motion. I do not know how or why I let go of the knife in mid-chop, but it happens.

I watch the knife falling toward the stone floor. I see my bare feet on the floor. The knife is falling, pointy part first, toward my feet. And I think, well, at least this knife is sharp enough to make a clean amputation because getting it lodged between my third and fourth metatarsals would be awkward.

Also, I notice, I really need to clip my toenails.

Roughly 0.27 seconds into this slow-motion moment, just as the knife is about to guillotine my foot, I perform a break-dance move known in the hip-hop community as the “42-Year-Old, Non-Flexible White Man Attempting to do the Splits.”

The knife misses my feet. It bounces off the stone floor… up… up… flip… down for a second stab. I hop out of the way and stare at the floor as the knife clatters a couple of more times before settling.

Phew! Close one! This cooking thing is dangerous.

I rinse off the knife and resume dicing.

Eventually, the peppers are chopped. The mint leaves are shredded. It’s time for the onion and garlic.

Oh, but hey! Look! At the back of the fridge! Little red peppers! They look spicy. I like spicy.

I rinse one off and slice off the tip – just the little tip – for a taste. I crunch into the niblet and wait for the burn.

The burn does not come. It tastes just like a red bell pepper. I shrug and slice it up. Why not?

The seed-filled mid-section, I discover after another taste, is spicier. It’s not the best kind of spicy. This pepper gives my tongue a nice burn, but the best kind of spicy is that buzzy sensation that creeps into your skull as if someone has wired a nine-volt battery to your temples.

Moving along, I chop the onion, which makes me teary-eyed. Then I chop the garlic, which is when things start to feel not so good.

My left index finger is burning. After a couple of minutes, the burning gets worse. It’s really starting to hurt. I wonder, did I get a micro-cut on my finger? Is hot pepper juice seeping inside my invisible wound? I should rinse it off.

The tap water is soothing. I resume chopping garlic.

The burning returns.

I ignore the burning as long as I can, but the burning does not want to be ignored. The side of my finger is developing an unusual, rosy glow. Minutes pass. The burning worsens to a worrisome intensity. Do I need a doctor?

Instead, I turn to the next best thing: advice from unqualified strangers on the Internet.

Online, I discover many pepper-slicers before me have faced similar problems. There’s a simple solution: Soak the burning finger in milk.

Yes! Milk! That standard household beverage everyone has in their fridge! Unless everyone in your household is lactose intolerant.

I scroll down for more unqualified advice. One person recommends olive oil.

I pour some olive oil into a little bowl, and plunge my fingers in, at which point the burning spreads to my other fingertips.

The burning has been going for a good 20 minutes. I’m considering the emergency room. And I am lecturing myself repeatedly: Don’t rub your eyes. Do not rub your eyes and and be very careful how you take hold to aim if urination becomes necessary.

Back at the kitchen sink, I let more tap water cascade over my digits. The sink is a cruel joke. The burning’s not bad as long as I keep the water flowing, but how long must I do this? Will I be tethered to the kitchen sink for days?

The front door rattles. Kattina comes in. She sees the food I’m cooking. Dinner ready just as she gets home… what a thoughtful husband she has! Then she notices I will not leave the sink. Also, I have a pained and teary look in my eyes. Clinching her suspicion that something serious is underway is the fact that I have a beer on the other side of the kitchen and am making no attempt to retrieve it.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I explain my predicament. “I was going to call and ask you to get milk on your way home, but it wasn’t that bad then.”

“Do you want me to go get some?” she asks.

No. The journey down the hill, the supermarket line, and the walk back will take at least 30 minutes.

“I have yogurt,” she says.

It sounds a little squishy, but why not?

“Ummm,” she hesitates, “it’s mango flavored.”

Phew! In addition to milk, I’m allergic to raspberries.

The yogurt is sticky, but relief comes quickly. Sort of. Like the tap water, the yogurt provides relief only as long as my fingers remain dunked.

It’s hard, Kattina realizes, to cook a stir fry with your left hand soaking in mango yogurt. So she swirls the ingredients in the wok. She cooks dinner for me as I instruct from my yogurt station.

By the time dinner is ready, the yogurt has formed a sticky, mango-yogurty film around my fingertips. I’m feeling soothed enough to free myself from the yogurt container. I sit before my steaming plate of spicy couscous and gobble it down. It’s delicious, and we have leftovers for a week!

I was trying to be a nice husband, having dinner ready when Kattina got home. Instead, I’ve greeted her with a ridiculous crisis. Is she wondering if this is all an act? A sick ploy to trick her into cooking?

It’s not. The burning has been real. And Kattina gets that.

Unfortunately, this is a ploy I can only pull off once. But people! Here is some extremely useful culinary advice! Do not share this story with your significant other. The next time you are feeling lazy, and hungry, and you know what time your significant other will be home, spread the aforementioned ingredients on the counter. Chop one red chili pepper. Use gloves to avoid the aforementioned burning. When you hear the key in the door, quickly slice an onion for the tear effect, dunk your fingers in a container of mango yogurt, and you’ve got yourself a week’s worth of spicy and delicious chicken couscous.

 

[Photo: Andrew Taylor]

Published on Monday, September 12, 2011

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