Weekly Winner: Not Your Average Tuesday Night Chicken Dinner

glazed chickenI think chicken breasts get a bad wrap.  Yes, the can be bland and boring but that is not their fault!  It’s the fault of whoever cooks them!  Done right, they can be an easy, nutritious, and downright tasty go-to dinner pick.  Treat them right and they will reward you with a delectable, low-fat, protein-rich meal.  Because they are such a blank canvas, they take well to aggressive seasoning.  And this sweet-spicy combination is the perfect example.

Glazed Chicken Breasts with Currant-Pistachio Couscous, comes from Cook’s Country Magazine.  It brings the heat with harissa, but tempers it nicely with the apricot preserves.  It’s a super easy, uniquely different one-pan dinner that I’ll be making frequently this spring.

Glazed Chicken Breasts with Currant-Pistachio Couscous

Serves 4

2 Tbsp apricot preserves

1 Tbsp harissa

5 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1/4 cup dried currants

1 tsp grated lemon zest plus 2 Tbsp juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1-1/2 tsp salt, divided

4 (6 to 8-oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

1-1/2 cups water

1-1/4 cups couscous

1/2 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped.

Procedure:

  1. Combine apricot preserves, harissa and 1 tablespoon oil in bowl.  Transfer one tablespoon harissa mixture to second bowl and stir in currants, lemon zest and juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil.
  2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Cook chicken until golden brown and meat registers 160 degrees, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to cutting board, brush all over with harissa-apricot mixture (without currants), and tent with foil.
  3. Bring water to boil in now-empty skillet over high heat.  Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in pistachios and harissa-currant mixture.  Slice chicken 1/2 inch thick and serve over couscous.

Weekly Winner: Simple, Sumptuous Sumac-laden Supper

Couscous ChickenThis was a fascinating dinner I made last night.  On the one hand, it’s a super easy one-pot meal. On the other hand, it was uniquely complex and exotic-tasting with just a few ingredients.

Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas was a perfect cool evening, post-holiday meal — warm and comforting, yet healthy and nourishing.  The foreign feel of this dish comes from a rather large amount of sumac which is both cooked in the broth and added at the end for a final flourish.  Sumac has a slight citrusy taste and also a mild numbing effect on the tongue without adding any heat.  Just tasty goodness in a bowl here.

The recipe comes from Milk Street and because it comes together so quickly and is made up of items I almost always have on hand, I think I’ll be making this a bunch this winter.

Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup pearl couscous

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 Tbsp tomato paste

3 tsp ground sumac, divided

1 cinnamon stick

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved

2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal

15-1/2 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tsp grated lemon zet, plus 1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped.

Procedure:

  1. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering.  Add couscous and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. In the same pot over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, 2 teaspoons salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well-browned, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of sumac and the cinnamon, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the chicken, carrots, 3 cups water and the couscous.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to medium-low and cook until the chicken is opaque when cut into and the couscous is tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in the chickpeas and the lemon zest and juice, then remove and discord the cinnamon stick.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in half of the mint and transfer to a serving bowl, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sumac and the remaining mint.

Weekly Winner:  Stuck on Stuffing Stuff — A Lighter Version

 What’s happening to me??  Not too long ago I swore I was not a fan of stuffed veggies.  I said it was not worth the effort and that it detracted from not only what you were stuffing, but generally the stuffing itself.  Then I discovered Sausage-and-Basil Stuffed Tomatoes, then just last month came Chicken Stuffed Bell Peppers, and now this — the ultimate shock – a totally vegetarian version!  Ack!  No pork product or meat of any kind!

That’s just a testament of how delightfully surprising this gem of a dish is.  Couscous-Stuffed Tomatoes rocked my world!  The recipe comes from Fine Cooking.  I honestly was simply testing the recipe for some of my clients who like this kind of thing (read: “vegetarian entrees”) and while I was expecting it to be light and tasty, I absolutely never imagined it would rise to the upper echelon of “Weekly Winner” status.  But, here it is.  And it deserves it.  It is bright and zesty thanks to the lemon and mint and since it is served at room temperature or chilled, it makes a perfect summer meal.  Not that a little crumbled bacon wouldn’t make it just a tad more perfect!

Couscous-Stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. toasted walnut or olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. pure maple syrup

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 oz. (1 cup) Israeli couscous, preferably toasted

4 scallions, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely chopped garlic

4 large tomatoes

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint, plus small leaves for garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Procedure:

In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the oil with the lemon juice, maple syrup, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Set aside.

In a 3-quart pot, bring 1½ cups water to a boil. Cook the couscous in the boiling water according to package directions until the water is absorbed. Toss with the vinaigrette.

In a 10-inch skillet, heat the remaining 1Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often, until browned in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 5 to 10 seconds. Combine with the couscous, and then toss with the chopped mint and parsley.

Core the tomatoes, slice a tiny bit off their bottoms to create a level base, cut off their top 1/4 inch, and then seed them with a spoon. Drain the flesh and seeds in a colander, then chop and add to the couscous. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among the tomatoes, garnish with the mint leaves, and serve.