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.
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:
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.
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
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.