Having a stocked pantry makes life so much easier on a rainy afternoon after opening the fridge to find some chicken and… well, that’s about it. We could’ve gone the easy route, making some version of our standard chicken with pasta, usually involving cream and whatever vegetables and cheese we have in stock. Jérôme was all set to make it happen when I opened the cupboard and saw a poor, neglected box of couscous hiding in the corner. Couscous! This is what our chicken needed.
Unfortunately after three seconds of my mind mentally reviewing what I’d just seen in the refrigerator I realized that we had literally no vegetables in the house, save a few onions. A good couscous is all about slow-roasted root veggies giving flavor to a savory broth and being absorbed by the fluffy, light couscous and just pulling the dish together. But now my mind was made up. I wanted couscous, but how could I make it work without going to the grocery store?
And then I spotted the dried figs, left over from my Thanksgiving fig, cranberry and red wine chutney. Hmm. I also had golden raisins. And dried cranberries. And cashew nuts, pistachios and almonds. Yes! And why not instead of a vegetable chicken couscous, make something inspired by the lamb and dried fruit tajine that I had a few months ago at the market Place de la Bourse? Yes, yes, yes!
I can’t go claiming that this is actually anything close to a traditional couscous recipe. It may be more like a tajine served over couscous. I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care! It was quick and easy. Replacing the vegetables that need to slowly cook with dried fruit made this dish five times faster. It was tasty. The cinnamon combined with the sweet figs and tart cranberries was heavenly. It was out of the ordinary. Chicken and pistachios? With figs and cranberries? Yes! I will make this dish again and again, tweaking it and changing it up depending on what I find in my pantry. And I think you should, too!
Couscous with chicken, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit
2-3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 T olive oil
3 C of chicken broth
1 C of couscous
1 large onion, diced
1/3 C dried figs, chopped
3 T golden raisins
1/3 C dried cranberries
1/4 C pistachios, chopped
1/8 C almonds, chopped
1/8 C cashews, chopped
2 T cinnamon
1/2 t cumin
1 t sea salt
In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin. Add to the onions and brown for about 6-8 minutes. Add the pistachios, cashews and almonds and cook about 3 minutes before turning the heat down to low and adding the stock. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
Bring some water to a boil for the couscous. Once it boils, take it off the heat, add 1 T of olive oil and the couscous and cover, letting the couscous absorb the liquid for about 5 minutes. Add the dried fruit to the chicken mixture and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until the couscous is ready.
Note: you want a lot of broth for this dish because it will help give your couscous more flavor. Don’t hesitate to add more broth or water to the chicken mixture if needed. This dish heats up nicely, so feel free to make a double batch, but don’t store the couscous and chicken in the same container, or you’ll end up with mushy couscous!