Spicy Chicken Couscous with Caramelized Vegetables
It has been years since I’ve made couscous and I decided today was the day! It’s so easy and perfect as a warm stew in colder weather!
Couscous is of course a North African dish. It is made from fine bulgur wheat, which I love because it’s not only tasty, but it doesn’t require any cooking! You just soak it for a few minutes in hot water and voila! Couscous!
I first tasted it as I did many things, at home. This recipe is in fact an adaptation of my mother’s. I’ve added a few vegetables and I’ve marinated the chicken because I love the flavors this brings out in the meat, but essentially, it’s my mom’s recipe.
Eating this also brings back fond memories of being a student in Paris, when we would seek out hidden little restaurants in all corners of the city where you could sit at a tiny table and be served wonderful meals for only a few francs. Yes, I’m that old 🙂 There was one particular restaurant run by a great Moroccan family that was my absolute favorite. The dark-haired mom in the kitchen, flushed from the heat of her cooking, would scoop up heaping spoonfuls of tagine (the ceramic cookware used to make the meat and vegetable stew, as well the name of the stew made in the cookware) with merguez, chicken, chickpeas, and all kinds of fresh veggies and serve it to us on perfectly steamed couscous. It was like sitting in her kitchen and having the privilege of eating home-cooking. It was beautiful.
Although there are a lot of ingredients, you won’t believe how fast it is to put this meal together. The process is simple. And it’s even easier if you go for the vegetarian/vegan version – just eliminate the chicken and use vegetable broth. Also, you don’t need a traditional ceramic tagine, any old pot will do!
Chicken and marinade: (all spice measurements are approximate):
- 1lb (500g) boneless chicken
- 1 cup creamy full-fat yogurt
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 4 Tbsp olive oil (or more)
- 1 large onion, chopped in large chunks
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 large carrot, sliced in large chunks
- 2 zucchini, sliced in large chunks
- 1 small eggplant, chopped in large chunks
- 2 tomatoes, chopped in large chunks
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- Spices – (about 1 tsp each or to taste. You can be generous here) cumin, powdered ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar (optional)
- 2 cups fine bulgur wheat (couscous)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 1/2 cups boiling water
- 2 Tbps butter, softened
- a pinch of saffron
To garnish, you may try any combination of raisins, dried apricots, parsley, toasted almonds, and lime.
Cut the chicken into large chunks. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and add the chicken. Marinate the chicken for 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. Line a large baking dish with aluminum foil (this is to help with cleanup later). Place the chicken on skewers and grill in the oven, turning once, until well done, about 35 minutes on one side and 15 minutes on the other. You may also grill the chicken on the bbq.
While the chicken is in the oven, chop all the vegetables into large chunks. Start with the onions and garlic and sauté in olive oil until golden at the edges. Remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the zucchini and carrots, and then the eggplant. Make sure the eggplant gets nice and dark brown. You might need to add more olive oil.
- Once all the vegetables are caramelized, put them all back into the pot. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, chickpeas, spices, and sugar. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- While the chicken is in the oven and the tagine is simmering, place the couscous (fine bulgur) in a bowl with salt. Pour 3 1/2 cups boiling water on top and cover. Let sit for about 10 minutes. The couscous will absorb all the water. Mix the softened butter with a pinch of saffron. When all the water is absorbed by the couscous, mix the butter/saffron mixture into the couscous and fluff with a fork.
- To assemble, place the couscous on a serving platter, arranging it in a mound all around the edge. Place the tagine in the center with the chicken on top. Add garnish to taste. Perfection!
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