By Sara Moulton
With Ramadan, Islam’s annual holy month, upon us, I thought I’d offer up some couscous, a dish that originated among North Africa’s Berbers a thousand or so years ago. The term refers to a kind of grain as well as to the broad range of recipes — a combined dish of broth, vegetables and red meat, chicken or fish — served with that grain.
Couscous is the national dish of Morocco, where it possesses “a quasi-mystical character,” according to Claudia Roden in “Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon.” She writes: “Morocco’s Berbers call it keskou, a name said to be derived from the sound steam makes as it passes through the grain. It is served on all great occasions, both happy and sad. It can be very simple, with the couscous plus just one vegetable such as fresh green peas, or it can be quite grandiose with stuffed pigeons sitting on a mountain of couscous mixed with almonds and raisins.”
The stew here consists of chicken thighs, frozen artichoke hearts crisped up in the chicken fat, green olives, chicken broth and lemon wedges. Why lemon wedges instead of lemon juice? Because as they bake among the other ingredients, the wedges impart a more lemony flavor to the dish.
What’s wonderful about this dish (besides its lusciousness) is that it calls for very little time and work on your part. You can brown the chicken thighs while prepping the rest of the ingredients, a step that helps get the dish into the oven that much faster. And the sauce makes itself as the chicken bakes.
The final touch? Chopped fresh herbs. And don’t skimp on them. They brighten up the whole shebang.
COUSCOUS WITH BAKED CHICKEN THIGHS, GREEN OLIVES, LEMONS AND ARTICHOKE HEARTS
Start to finish: 1 hour (40 active)
Servings: 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 small bone-in chicken thighs (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
One 9-ounce package defrosted frozen artichoke hearts (about 2 cups), quartered and patted dry
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup green olives
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
One 10-ounce box instant couscous
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint, or a mix
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large ovenproof skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and working in two batches, season the chicken with salt and add it to the skillet skin side down. Cook until the skin is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook them for 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken. Pour off all but 2 1/2 tablespoons of the fat.
Add the artichokes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, add the olives, lemon wedges and chicken broth.
Put the skillet on the middle shelf of the oven and bake the chicken for 20 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through. While the chicken is baking, prepare the couscous following the instructions on the back of the package, adding the remaining tablespoon oil as instructed. Fluff up the couscous with a fork before serving.
To serve: Mound the couscous on each plate and top with some of the chicken, artichokes, lemon wedges and olives, some of the broth from the skillet and a generous sprinkling of the herbs.
Nutrition information per serving: 621 calories; 196 calories from fat; 22 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 130 mg cholesterol; 775 mg sodium; 65 g carbohydrate; 10 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 39 g protein.