Walking to my car this morning, I noticed crocuses sticking their little heads up out of the ground.
I don’t know whether to be cheered, confused or depressed about this. Honestly, I’m feeling a little bit of all three. Saturday morning, my world was coated in a solid 1/4″ of ice. No snow — just ice. By Sunday afternoon, the ice had melted. Overnight, we had thunderstorms and wind gusts up to 70 mph. This morning, it’s 50° and spring-like, complete with windy sunshine. And crocuses.
From ice to spring flowers in 48 hours. Mother Nature, you are one fickle biatch.
P.S.: please stop messing with me, okay?
So, back when it was still Saturday and still icy and still cold, chilly, breezy and, you know winter, being that it’s still January and all, nothing sounded better than a deep bowl of thick stew infused with Arabian spices. And it really was. Hit the spot, shook off the chill and all that good stuff.
Actually, it still sounds good on this springy day — I’ll be having the leftovers for lunch.
This recipe has its roots in another dish I made last January: Chicken b’stilla, which came from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, “Around My French Table,” and was, back then, the cooking assignment for that week for the French Fridays with Dorie cooking group.
Now, if you hung out on SoupAddict.com back then, like all the cool kids did (right? [crickets] right?! [silence] sigh), you might recall that SoupAddict don’t do meat pies. Nuh uh, no way.
Chicken b’stilla (or pastilla) is most definitely a meat pie, however, the filling sounded so entirely yummy that I got around the “pie” aspect of it by bagging the phyllo crust and serving over brown rice instead. Which was an okay alternative, considering it was a last-minute decision.
When I recently came across my old chicken pastilla post, I knew that a much better non-meat-pie treatment — with all due respect to this national dish of Morocco — would be to turn it into a proper stew.
And so I did … and I’m very happy with the result, especially with the addition of harissa, which is not a traditional ingredient in pastilla, but is hands-down my favorite middle eastern condiment.
I did, however, give a nod to the pie crust by creating puff pastry points to use as a crouton garnish. I’m sure that one can successfully argue that there’s very little difference between pie crust on the outside of a dish, and pie crust in a dish, but puffy pastry in a dish means that it’s not a meat pie, and therefore is edible by SoupAddict, because SoupAddict don’t do meat pies, okay? Okay!
Oh, and like most soups and stews, this dish can easily be made ahead and refrigerated for a couple of days and will, in fact, come out even more delicious because the flavors will have had time to blend.
Moroccan Chicken Stew
inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s Chicken b’stilla
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Note: chicken must marinate for an hour, and puffy pastry needs to thaw before baking.
Yield: 4 generous servings
6 chicken thighs skinless, boneless, each piece cut into fourths (about 1 pound)
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, split and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil, divided (or other high-heat oil)
1/4 white wine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
4 cups of chicken stock
1 cup small pasta or pearl couscous (or 1/2 cup rice of your choice)
1/2 – 2 teaspoons harissa, to taste (use more for more heat) (optional, but highly recommended)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 of one sheet puff pastry
cinnamon, for sprinkling
finishing salt, such as Maldon’s or grey sea salt
To make the soup: In a medium bowl, season the chicken with the ground ginger, coriander, cinnamon, smoked paprika and saffron. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and stir to mix well. Cover, and marinate at room temperature for one hour (or place in fridge overnight)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 4 to 5 qt dutch oven or a large, wide stock pot until shimmering. When the chicken has finished marinating, use your fingers to gently brush the vegetables from the chicken pieces (reserving the vegetables in the bowl). Lay half of the chicken in a single layer, and brown both sides. Remove to a plate to cool. Add the remaining oil (if necessary) and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add the reserved vegetables and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and a little bit of the chicken stock, stirring well. Add the lemon juice and honey and stir to create a paste. Add half of the remaining chicken stock and turn heat to medium high. Stir well to loosen the paste, then add the remaining stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to medium low.
Cut or pull apart the cooled chicken into bite size pieces and add them to the soup. Add the pasta or grains, stir well, and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes (or until the grains are cooked according to their directions). Uncover and reduce heat to low. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Stir in the harissa, mixing well. Allow the soup to rest at low for another 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro.
Puff pastry points: Remove one pastry sheet from the box, and slice it in half (return the unused sheets to the freezer). Allow to thaw for 30 minutes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet while you’re making the soup.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Unfold the pastry sheet and use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to slice the sheet into narrow strips. Slice across the strips diagonally to create angled points. Sprinkle the strips lightly with cinnamon and finishing salt (such as Maldon’s or grey sea salt).
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until puffy and lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool on the sheet.
To serve: Ladle soup into bowls. Top with puff pastry points.