Tunisian cous-cous with chicken and chermoula

Summer in Rennes exposed me to two delicious foods on the regular: first, the gallette, a hearty crepe made from buckwheat flour.  It might take some doing to find buckwheat flour around here (hello Brooklyn?), but I’m not going to mind killing a Sunday to try to bring the galette complète back. I stumbled across Bar Breton earlier this year and thought I would have my fix – alas, it recently closed down (addendum 6/11/12 – the Crooked Tree Creperie in the East Village has sweet and savory galettes for cheap, and it’s across from Crif Dogs).

While in Rennes, I was living in a student neighborhood hanging out with a fair amount of Moroccans, which also led to cous-cous from time to time.  Something like this:

Trust me, the chicken isn’t as dry as it looks. It’s been bathing for hours!

My contribution to this cultural exchange at the time?  Peanut butter and jelly.  And no bread either.  Just a spoon from one jar to the other, unpaid-intern style.  It was hit, a little gustatory diplomacy on behalf of the ol’ State Department.  Colin Powell pictures adorned the office walls back then, but I like to think if Hillary had been in charge, she would have sent me this text (or any text for that matter):

Lolz, really? You could have at least gone with a cheeseburger.

Read on for the recipe, and for the musical artist I think of every time I hear the word “cayenne,” plus a couple artists you should check out if you want to get your African blues on…

Got this recipe reading the Times on the Subway. The links are on the side of the article.

Ingredients – Chicken

  • 3 cups canned chickpeas
  • 1 onion, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves, plus 2 small onions, diced, about 2 cups
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed (this is in original recipe but my grocery didn’t have it)
  • 4 chicken drumsticks with thighs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 inchlong stick of cinnamon (this was one of the best and most distinct flavors in the dish)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled, in 2-inch batons
  • 1/2 pound small turnips, peeled and cut in wedges (I definitely had to google image search turnips, which was pretty embarassing)
  • Cooked and buttered couscous (I used pearled couscous by accident, the regular is much more absorbent)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

So if you’re me at this point you’re thinking “I’m fire like CAYENNE!”

Why? Mystikal.  Every time I hear cayenne, I think of the way he shouts cayenne like a crazy person.  Can’t help it.  Mystikal uses that simile in the well-known “Shake ya A–” but also when describing his style in “Y’all ain’t ready yet” …

I was going African blues rock with Amadou & Miriam (awesome in this video w/Manu Chao) and a bit of desert nomad aesthetic with Tinariwen (video here) when making this meal … but when it’s time to add the cayenne, you need some Mystikal, right?

What’s that?  Show me what you’re working with!  Ingredients:

Directions – Chicken stew-like substance

Onion stuck with clove antennae

Onion throwing his clove hands up in the air sometimes, singing hey-yo

1.  Bring the chick peas, onion stuck with clove, and bay leaf to a boil (onion with cloves on the left).  Gently simmer for 40-60 minutes.

2. While chickpeas cook, make the spice mixture and cook the chicken.  Toast the coriander and cumin (and caraway if you have it) in a dry skillet over medium heat, until fragrant.  If you have a mortar and pestle around (I don’t – hint Christmas 2012), you can use that to crush the spices after you’ve toasted them.  In the absence of mortar and pestle, a spoon and bowl will do just fine.  I probably toasted for 3-4 minutes but I’m not really sure.  Just toast until it smells like something good is happening.

After

Before

Chicken yang twins3. Rinse the chicken legs, pat dry, add some salt and pepper and the spice mixture. In a dutch oven (or heavy-bottomed pot) heat some oil at medium high and cook the chicken until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. This didn’t pay off for me at all though – the skin just boiled off later. Times writer seems to have nailed it in his picture on the other hand.  Guess that’s why he gets paid to do what he does.

4. Add diced onions and salt to the same pot you cooked the chicken in for 3-4 minutes. Add the cinnamon stick and garlic and cook for a minute more.

You might deglaze a bit of this now that you know how

5. Once chickpeas have cooked, drain them, saving the broth.  Return the chicken to the pot with the onions and spices and pour in 4 cups of broth.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes.

6. Add chickpeas, carrots, turnips and cook covered for 15 more minutes. Serve over cous cous with sauce (next), but I also ate this as a soup once I ran out of cous cous and sauce.

Ingredients – Chermoula (sauce)

The sauce is so worth it – I’d never heard of it or had it before this meal, but chermoula is a “a pesto-like mixture of hot chiles and leafy cilantro kicked up with garlic and preserved lemon.” Make it as spicy as you like – mine was pretty mild with just 2 jalapenos.

  • Grated zest of one lemon (we have a nice tool for this in the kitchen, not sure how I’d get such fine lemon filiments without it.)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed with salt to form a paste
  • 2 serrano or jalapeno chilis, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped

Directions – Chermoula

Scallions and lemons

1. Grate your lemon into a fine zest.

2. Mix the garlic paste, chilis, and cilantro (I used a food processor)

3. Stir in the olive oil, scallions, and lemon.

Just as the cinnamon was the most fragrant element of the stew, I found the lemon to be the most fragrant element of the sauce.  The cinnamony, lemony flavors you get out of this dish are delicious, though I found it to be a bit runny (maybe because I mistakenly bought pearled cous-cous).  All in all well worth a try sometime!

Chermoula

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