Thursday, October 2, 2008

The couscous experiment

Here is the recipe for Rachel Ray's Middle Eastern Chicken Pot and Butter-Nut Couscous, straight from the Food Network. Not that she needs more advertising...

I am just a simpleton cook, and Rachel Ray dishes are right up my simple, a child can make them. To add to the allure is her pleasantly plump figure, standing in that bright and cheerful kitchen of hers, um-um-um-ming away. Yummo!

While DH is definitely not a fan of the couscous (he cannot tolerate anything that comes remotely close to taking the place of his beloved basmati rice), I am on a relentless mission to find a more nutritionally acceptable (and palatable) substitute for the worthless calories of refined grain. Thus far, brown rice, millets, oats, couscous and wheat bread have failed miserably.

Lo and behold! My latest attempt...disguising the bland taste of couscous by drowning it in a sea of nuts. Genius!

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it (in my version, 2 tsp)
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated or chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
Pinch ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup chopped dried fruits - pick 1 or combine: figs, pitted dates, apricots, sultanas
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3/4 cup pitted mixed olives, chopped
4 cups chicken stock, divided
2 tablespoons butter (in my version, 1 tsp)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups couscous
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (in my version, coriander)

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil ripples add the chicken and brown 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaf and season with spices, salt and pepper, cook 5 to 6 minutes. Stir the fruits into the chicken and vegetables, add the zest of the lemon, olives and 2 1/2 cups of stock. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice and turn off heat. Remove bay leaf.
While chicken simmers, melt butter in a sauce pot over medium heat. Add nuts and lightly toast for a couple of minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups stock and bring up to a boil then stir in couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
Serve chicken over couscous, or vice versa, and garnish with parsley.

While the result was not spectacular enough to convert DH (I admit, the nuts were probably bordering on stale), I am inspired enough to try a few more versions of it before I throw in the towel.

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