Spiced butter helps out

JeanMarie Brownson
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Weeknight dinners challenge all of us — especially during the overloaded holiday season. I employ a few tricks to help lessen the angst: I keep a stash of individually wrapped, quick-to-cook proteins in the freezer; stock the refrigerator with interesting condiments; and seek out pre-cut vegetables in the produce section.

Seasoned butters top my list of go-to flavor enhancements. This fall, I’m enchanted with tabil, a Tunisian spice blend made from coriander, caraway and cumin. Stirred into butter, the mixture proves reminiscent of the seasoned butter I smear over the Moroccan seasoned lamb known as mechoui. Armed with tabil-seasoned butter, weeknight pork chops receive a major upgrade.

Whole spices mean big flavor and prove worth the time it takes to grind them. Use an electric spice grinder or coffee mill to grind spices quickly, or employ a mortar and pestle if you like to exert energy. If using ground spices, use slightly less than the amounts of whole spice listed.

Make the butter days or even weeks in advance, and once it’s firm, cut it into tablespoon portions and freeze them solid. The little bricks of flavor season a simply broiled chop or chicken breast and transform steamed or roasted vegetables. A plain pot of brown rice sports new life with a bit of this aromatic butter stirred in at the last minute. Ditto for a creamy bean soup or corn chowder.

For the pork chops, I always prefer bone-in for the added flavor and moisture. Of course, I grill when the weather allows, but it takes time to heat the grill. For everyday cooking, the broiler makes quick work — simply use two temperatures for careful cooking. The same recipe tastes great with boneless chicken thighs, just reduce cooking time by 3 or 4 minutes.

“Riced” vegetables grace the tables of trendy vegetarians. Fortunately for the harried home cook, they are now increasingly available in the produce section ready to go. Of course, you can make your own simply by putting raw florets of cauliflower or broccoli into the food processor and pulsing until the pieces resemble rice. Vegetables cut this small allow for quick cooking — here in about 12 minutes.

Serve the chops and cauliflower couscous accompanied by crusty bread to sop up the butter and a glass of rose wine or hoppy beer. You deserve it.

Tabil Butter

For deeper flavor, toast the seeds in a small, dry nonstick skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. (Don’t walk away, or they’ll burn.) Cool.

Prep: 10 minutes

Makes: About 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Finely grind the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds with a spice grinder, coffee mill or mortar and pestle; set aside.

Put softened butter into a small bowl. Stir in garlic and mustard until blended. Stir in ground seeds and pepper flakes. Transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log. Refrigerate until firm.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 65 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein, 93 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Broiled Pork Chops With Tabil Butter

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 14 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

4 bone-in blade-end or rib pork chops, about 1 inch thick and 6 to 8 ounces each

Salt, freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons tabil butter, see recipe

Cauliflower couscous, see recipe

Cilantro, chives or fresh parsley, chopped

Lime wedges

Heat broiler to low. Line a broiler pan with aluminum foil.

Pat the pork chops dry; season with salt and pepper. Put the chops on the broiler pan. Broil, 4 to 5 inches from the heat source, 6 minutes. Flip the chops; broil, 6 minutes. Remove the chops from oven.

Increase the broiler setting to high. Spread a scant 1 tablespoon tabil butter over each. Broil chops, turning after 1 minute, until browned on both sides and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center reaches 140 degrees for medium. Transfer chops to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. (Temperature will rise a couple of degrees.)

Serve the chops accompanied by the cauliflower couscous. Garnish with chopped herbs and lime wedges for squeezing over everything.

Nutrition information per serving: 262 calories, 17 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 22 g protein, 204 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Cauliflower ‘Couscous’ With Tabil Butter

Try substituting shredded trimmed, halved Brussels sprouts for the riced cauliflower for a variation.

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes: about 6 cups, 6 servings

1 tablespoon sunflower or safflower oil

1 small red onion, diced

1 package (16 ounces) riced cauliflower

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 cups frozen black-eyed peas, thawed

1 bag (5 ounces) baby kale, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons tabil butter, see recipe

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion; cook until translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower; cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Add black-eyed peas, kale and tabil butter. Cook until greens are wilted and everything is heated through, about 1 minute. Toss with lime juice. Serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 155 calories, 5 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 7 g protein, 66 mg sodium, 6 g fiber