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HARISSA CHICKEN WITH SAUTÈED TOMATOES, BULGUR & YOGURT

Posted Jun 29 2010 12:00am

Nothing has influenced my palate more than travel.  Every time I visit a foreign land, I return home inspired to cook with a new array of combinations, techniques and flavors.  For months after a trip, I find myself turning to these compelling ideas again and again; moments spent alone in the kitchen allow me to reminisce about some amazing place and its lasting impressions.  As time passes, these new culinary methods will infuse my cooking, magically melding with every food experience embedded in my being (They are all there.  I’m sure of it).
Last month, Mike and I took a trip to Marrakech.  Though we were only there for a short time, I feel as though that labyrinthine city became as much a part of me as places I’ve lived for years.  I wish I could tell you about it, but I’m afraid my vocabulary is simply inadequate.  Words often fall short when it comes to describing the spirit of a person or place, and therefore I won’t even try.  If you ever have the chance to go, don’t hesitate.  
Since the trip, I daydream daily about thick, milky porridge garnished with cinnamon and almonds, roadside sardine sandwiches with butter and , sticky-sweet mint tea, Ras el Hanout , lamb tangia with and fresh orange juice five times a day.  And I know that my cooking is forever changed.

HARISSA CHICKEN WITH SAUTÈED TOMATOES, BULGUR & YOGURT

SERVES 2  This is the first dish I cooked after returning home from Marrakech, memories of cumin and chile still parading through my mind.  It is a breeze to prepare (coming together in under 30 minutes!), and yet the textures and flavors are remarkably complex and satisfying.  Each bite is composed of fluffy bulgur, aromatic chicken, crunchy pine nuts and refreshing herbs; as you cut into a sauteed tomato, its juice combines with the thick yogurt for a rich, tangy sauce that balances the heat of the harissa.
INGREDIENTS
2 chicken thighs, approximately 6 ounces each
2 tablespoons harissa, or homemade
1/2 cup
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (cow or sheep’s milk will both work, but they must be full-fat)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 branches cherry tomatoes (a total of ~10 tomatoes)
4 garlic cloves (or three stalks green garlic), thinly sliced 
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and baby spinach
1 lemon
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
DIRECTIONS
Toss chicken thighs with a heavy pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon harissa; allow to marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  
Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Remove chicken from refrigerator and set at room temperature while you gather your remaining ingredients.
Bring 1 cup water or stock to a boil.  Place bulgur in a medium heat-proof mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil; pour boiling water on top.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside for 25 minutes (which is exactly how long everything else takes).  
Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt and pine nuts.  Place nuts in a small skillet or on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for approximately 8 minutes, or until they are golden brown.  Place yogurt in a medium bowl; whisk in a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil.  Set toasted pine nuts and yogurt aside.
Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of the skillet.  Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down; cook without disturbing for about 8 minutes.  (If you nudge the chicken and it sticks to the bottom of the pan, it is not ready to turn - leave it alone and try again in a couple of minutes.)  Turn chicken and place the skillet in the oven for 15-17 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.  Place the chicken on a plate and set aside in warm spot next to the stove.
Return the skillet to medium heat and add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt.  After about 2 minutes, add the sliced garlic; shake the skillet to coat the tomatoes in the flavor-infused oil.  Cook for 2 minutes more, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the garlic from browning.  
Plate it up:  Fluff bulgur with a fork; season the grain with a couple squeezes of lemon juice and salt to taste.  Divide yogurt amongst plates; top with bulgur, chicken, tomatoes and a scattering of fresh herbs.  At this point, I added the remaining tablespoon of harissa to the skillet, gave it a quick swirl, and then topped the entire dish with a drizzle of that aromatic, fiery oil; but this is a matter of preference.  
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