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Taking Comfort in Couscous

This time of year, much of the bowl food that’s written about consists of virtuous whole grains and crisp vegetables, perfect to fuel those post-resolution workouts we’ve all been thinking about.

But what’s to be said for another type of bowl food, the cozy, cheesy variety that doesn’t require too much effort in the way of chewing? Polenta, macaroni and cheese, risotto, even savory oatmeal: They’re meals you can take to the sofa and balance in your lap, spoon in one hand, remote control in the other.

This recipe for pearl couscous with feta, tomatoes and herbs is decidedly of the couch-nestling kind. When baked until tender and bound with cheese, the tiny rounds of toasted pasta turn silky, absorbing all the flavors around them.

A good stock provides much of that flavor, and adding vegetable stock makes this a vegetarian one-pan meal. But if keeping things vegetarian isn’t the goal and you have chicken or beef broth on hand, stir that into the pan instead. Chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest and cumin deepen the character of the stock, making it bright and lively, as well as complex.

Chickpeas give the dish a boost of protein. Feta cheese adds creaminess and tang, though how much tang will depend on the kind of feta you buy. Greek tends to be the saltiest and most intense in taste, while cheeses imported from Bulgaria and France are generally milder. Taste a bit before you add it to the pan. If it seems very salty, give the cheese a quick rinse. And if it seems too bland, add an extra pinch of salt and dash of balsamic vinegar to the pan to perk things up.

Every one-pan meal needs a vegetable and here, roasted sturdy grape tomatoes — a winter staple in my kitchen — get the job done. Cooked along with balsamic vinegar, garlic and scallions, they turn both savory and sweet, with their juices condensing in their brief stint in a very hot oven.

They do not, however, provide any kind of textural contrast. (This is not a dish for anyone looking for crunch.) Soft, cheese-filled and warming, this meal is as gently comforting as that spot on the couch.

Recipe: Pearl Couscous With Creamy Feta and Chickpeas

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Melissa Clark has been a columnist for the Food section since 2007. She reports on food trends, creates recipes and appears in cooking videos linked to her column, A Good Appetite. She has also written dozens of cookbooks. @MelissaClark Facebook

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