North African Summer Lunch

France has long been entwined with North Africa, and one of the offshoots is the Algerian couscous shops you can see in Paris. You get a plate of couscous, a plate of vegetables in broth, the meat of your choice on another plate, and some harissa to spice it up. You mix to your pleasure on your plate. We chose chicken and merguez sausage as the meats. Here’s my sweetheart about to begin.

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It looks great, but frankly I was disappointed – the chicken was dry, the vegetables bland and overcooked. I had expected the version that I had made a few weeks previously. This comes from “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan.

I like this book a lot. As an American cook in Paris, it’s her take on what the French eat at home. She makes the whole meal in one pot, which is great for cleanup, but also its great because all the flavors are captured in the pot. Here’s how this one looks:

Chicken Couscous

 

A note about Harissa. This is a universal condiment across North Africa, right through to Syria. It’s a mix of hot and mild peppers and garlic pureed with oil. There’s no particular recipe, so they vary wildly from mild to incendiary. Buyer beware! I get mine from a Middle Eastern store nearby, but you can buy it online also if you are not lucky enough to have one of those.  You stir it into the broth to get that deep hot rumble.

Chicken Couscous

Ingredients

1 tbsp grated ginger plus more to taste
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp saffron, well crushed
1/8 tsp cinnamon
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 skinless, boneless full chicken breasts cut into 2” lumps
6-9 cups chicken broth
2 leeks cut into 2 inch lengths
8 cipolin onions
2 celery stalks cut into 2” lengths
2 carrots cut into 2” lengths
2 medium turnips, cored and quartered
2 zucchini cut into 2” lengths
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups couscous

Technique

Mix ginger, cumin, turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a dutch oven or other heavy pot, briefly cook the spice paste, and then turn the chicken in the spice mixture until it picks up the seasoning and the edges don’t look raw. You are not trying to cook the chicken through here, and you certainly don’t want to brown it, as that would burn the spice paste.

Add 6 cups of broth, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Add the leeks, onions, celery, carrots, and turnips. You may need to add more broth to just cover the chicken and vegetables. Simmer 15 minutes.

Transfer 3 cups of what is now a delectable, flavorful, bright yellow stock to another saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, stir and take off the heat.

Add zucchini and chickpeas to the chicken and vegetables and warm while the couscous cooks.

For each serving put some couscous in a bowl and then over it ladle some chicken, a sampling of all the vegetables, and some broth. Serve harissa on the side. Freshly made pita bread would be great with this too, but that’s a tale for another day.

If you are cooking for leftovers, and why would you not, keep back that portion of the zucchini, or you’ll find it goes too soggy. The other vegetables can withstand reheating.

What would you drink with this? To be traditional, mint tea. I like to make mine with Chinese green gunpowder tea, fresh mint and lots of sugar (sugar cubes to be held in the mouth while you drink it, if you want to be ultra-traditional).  I would go with an iced rosé or a chilled white wine.

 

How We Got Here

From the garden


I am an enthusiastic amateur cook. I cook all the meals that my wife and I share (except for weekday breakfasts – that’s her job) and I cook dinner parties for our friends, sometimes lots of them. We eat healthy food cooked from high quality ingredients, mostly mediterranean, but then last week was gado-gado and green papaya salad. I love to cook food that the people I love love to eat, and I want to share that passion, so I am going to tell you some of my thoughts and recipes.

The seed for this blog was originally sown during a late night dinner party conversation about retirement jobs and people were encouraging me to teach others how I cook. I suggested I could run a cooking class at our house for older single men. So many men in their sixties or older have avery limited repertoire in the kitchen, so I thought this would be a public service. Together we’d cook a great meal, they would get a practical recipe that they could cook for themselves, and hopefully they’d learn some kitchen skills. Then someone suggested that if have collected this cluster of single men, why don’t I get some single women to join them for the meal? So it would be a kind of a combined mixer and a lifeskills class. It sounded fun, but from a business point of view, it obviously would not scale to generate enough revenue to be interesting. Though we did talk about extras for purchase, like rooms by the hour.

So then I thought, to reach a wider audience, it’d have to be a blog. (And every blogger is an instant millionaire, right?) The name I came up with was “Cooking To Get Laid”, and the theme would be light romantic fare, with the slogan: The last thing you want to hear is, “I’m so full I couldn’t put another thing in my body.”

This idea received mixed reviews, as you can imagine. “Getting laid” is not the most romantic figure of speech. What I really meant , once we got back out of the gutter, was that preparing a meal for someone and eating it with them is for me an intimate experience of giving and receiving love.

So enter: Loving To Cook For Lovers.