Chicken Vegetable Couscous – Healthy Savory Moroccan-Inspired Recipe
I was first introduced to couscous by my Grandma Lois, who learned about it on a Moroccan vacation with my grandfather Clarence (they traveled the world in their retirement years). This was back in the early 1980’s when couscous, hummus and other Middle Eastern delights were not yet well known to most Americans. Grandma was both shocked and amazed when she learned that Moroccans eat couscous with their hands. Despite her initial reservations about the communal utensil-free eating style, she dug in with the rest of the group. She quickly fell in love with what then seemed like a very exotic food, and decided that she must make it when she returned home. Instant couscous was not widely available in our small California hometown grocery market, so Grandma made special trips to a health food store in a neighboring town to stock up. I actually remember my first taste; I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old. I fell in love with the texture… thousands of tiny pasta-like pieces, warm and fluffy, soaking up whatever sauce Grandma served with it. Couscous quickly became my favorite starchy side dish, preferred over potatoes, pasta, rice and other grains. To this day, I find couscous a comfort… it reminds me of dining with my grandma and grandpa, listening to their colorful Middle Eastern travel adventures.
I’ve made this Chicken Vegetable Couscous recipe in my family for years. It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to blog about for a long time, but I never quite got around to it until now. It’s a staple for us when the weather begins to cool off. I originally learned to make couscous from our family friend Sharone, who has Moroccan ancestry. Over time I added spices and a hefty dose of turmeric to the mix. We are trying to work turmeric into our diet more because it is a natural anti-inflammatory that aids the body in healing. Here turmeric is the perfect enhancement to savory slow-cooked chicken, healthy vegetables and tender, fluffy couscous. Butternut squash and carrots add a bit of natural sweetness to a predominantly savory recipe. This is not a sweet couscous by any means; no raisins or dates here. It’s all about the chicken and spices.
Traditionally couscous is made by hand and steamed in a double-tiered pan called a couscoussier above the stew-like ingredients below. The advantage to steaming couscous is that it cooks up drier and fluffier, meaning it can better absorb the liquid it is served with. Today instant couscous can easily be made and enjoyed without the need for a steaming insert (of course, if you have a couscoussier feel free to use it!). In the following recipe, cooking the couscous in chicken broth with a little turmeric gives it a terrific complimentary flavor. Our friend Sharone insists that if you fluff the instant couscous with clean hands rather than a fork, you will get a texture that rivals handmade steamed Moroccan couscous. If you’re feeling adventurous you can make the couscous by hand, but I don’t have a recipe for it on the site yet. I find the instant variety works just as well and makes a fine base for your other ingredients.
Either way, this Chicken Vegetable Couscous is an easy, healthy and tasty meal that is “just right” for colder weather months. I consider it one of my ultimate comfort foods!
Couscoussier (if you want to try steamed couscous the old fashioned way!)
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- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 whole chicken 3-4 pounds, cut into pieces
- 2 whole onions peeled and sliced
- 2 tsp minced fresh garlic
- 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth divided
- 2 tsp salt divided
- 1 tsp turmeric heaping
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 lb butternut squash, peeled, cubed and seeded about 3/4 lb. peeled butternut squash cubes
- 3/4 lb zucchini about 2 medium, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3/4 lb carrots peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 celery ribs cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas 1 can
- 10 oz instant couscous 1 box
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro or parsley
- Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large 8 quart pot over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Place half of the chicken pieces skin side down and brown them for a few minutes. Remove the chicken pieces and brown the other chicken pieces in the same way. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium and add sliced onions to the pot. Saute the onions, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and begin to caramelize. Add the garlic and saute for a minute more until fragrant.
- Add 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth to the pot. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you bring the stock to a boil.
- Add the chicken pieces to the pot, using a pair of tongs to coat them with sauce before placing them skin-side up. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the pot, vented slightly. Let them simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
- Remove chicken pieces from the pot and add the squash, zucchini, carrots and celery, stirring them into the broth to make sure each vegetable is evenly coated. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot on top of the vegetables. Cover the pot tightly and reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the vegetables cook for 15 minutes.
- Gently stir the chickpeas into the chicken vegetable mixture. Let the mixture cook covered for 5-10 more minutes until the largest vegetable chunks are tender.
- While the chicken mixture finishes cooking, prepare the couscous. In a small pot, bring 2 cups low sodium chicken broth to a boil. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt, pinch of turmeric and 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Stir in the couscous and cover the pot. Remove the pot from heat and let the couscous steam for 5 minutes, until tender.Fluff the cooked couscous with a fork (or with clean hands, as my Moroccan friend Sharone suggests-- careful, it's hot!) and place it on a serving platter. Use a slotted spoon to place the cooked chicken and vegetables on top of the couscous, then sprinkle with chopped cilantro or parsley. Pour the cooking liquid into a large gravy boat.
- Top each serving of couscous with a bit of cooking liquid to moisten. Can be served with spicy sauce or harissa on the side.
Other Great Moroccan-Inspired Recipe Ideas
Tori Avey – Moroccan-Style Vegetable Couscous
Michael Ruhlman – Kate’s Chicken Tagine
Simply Recipes – Couscous with Pistachios and Apricots
Tori Avey – Lemony Saffron Couscous