North African Wedding Soup

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This is another one of the recipes that we decided to make this blog for… It’s one of my favorite Pinterest finds, from what’s become a favorite blog – Little Spice Jar. We always tweak our recipes a little bit and this was no different. But, per usual, we’ve forgotten the changes we made from the last few times we made it. So this time, we’ll cross our fingers that it turns out to be the best version we’ve ever made and actually write it down.

These little meatballs are so full of flavorful spices, and the meatballs actually flavor the soup broth itself. This broth has such depth, and the aromas floating through your kitchen are so enticing. The flavors build and build the more you eat. And actually, this is one of those soups that is so much better as a leftover. Do what we did and eat it for dinner, but then enjoy the leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. Feel free to tweak the spices based on your personal preferences, but keep it spice-heavy! It is not super spicy, so if you want it that way, go ahead and increase the spice level. You may have noticed if you’ve read our blog a lot that we love the flavors of the Middle East and Northern African. No exception here. If you’re not familiar with or unsure of the cuisine from this part of the world, please let this soup be your gateway drug. You won’t be disappointed!

Why is this called North African wedding soup? Well, every time we make it, it makes me think of Italian wedding soup – the small meatballs, couscous in place of the orzo, and of course, North African spices in place of Italian flavors. Even more confirmation for this name? Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary! North African wedding soup it is! (I have no idea if there is actually a traditional North African wedding soup – if there is, this is not it!)

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One of my favorites from our wedding ❤  Photograph by Lauren D. Rogers Photography

Mini Meatball Spiced Soup

(Adapted from Little Spice Jar)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chopped carrots
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the beef, tomato paste, and spices through nutmeg. Combine well.
  3. Then form into small meatballs and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  5. Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot and top with several turns of black pepper, the Aleppo pepper, and the fresh thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are fragrant/browning and carrots have begun to soften, ~10-12minutes.
  6. Pour beef broth into the pot and adjust heat to a light simmer.
  7. Add the meatballs and the couscous, partially cover if needed, and continue to lightly simmer for ~15 minutes, until the couscous is soft and tender.
  8. Taste and adjust for salt as needed, then serve.
Serves 6-8
Quick response to a question I’m anticipating. Why bake the meatballs, won’t they cook in the broth? Yes, they would. Baking them briefly allows for two important things in my mind – 1) it helps the meatballs hold their shape and 2) allows the meat to leech some of its fat somewhere other than your broth. Yes the fat tastes delicious and yes, you’re losing some of the spiced flavors, but it can definitely make your soup cloudy and oily. 
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Simple Olive Couscous

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This side dish has a great flavor that belies its simplicity and ease of cooking. I could eat this as a meal (I really love couscous), but it’s perfect as a side dish with pretty much any dish with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or North African flavors. I made it tonight with these braised chicken thighs!

Simple Olive Couscous

Ingredients: 
  • 2/3 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 8 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 tbsp juice from olive jar, divided
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Place the couscous, chicken stock, and 1 tbsp of olive juice to a small pot. Bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat to a light simmer. Cover and cook for ~12 minutes. (Cooking times and liquid amounts may vary by brand – check your cooking instructions.)
  3. At the very end, add the olives and other tablespoon of olive juice to the pot. Stir well and re-cover.
  4. Once all the liquid is absorbed, top with a bit of fresh ground black pepper before serving. See, simple!
Serves 2-3.

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Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers

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So what do you think of when you hear “stuffed peppers”? Chances are, you’re imagining something with bold Tex-Mex flavors, I am right? I picture a big old red pepper, filled with beef, beans, onions, and spices in a red sauce, smothered with cheese on top. The cheesy, spicy goodness gets you every time! So hate to tell you… but that’s not the recipe I’m sharing tonight.

Tonight, I decided to go a little different route. I was thinking that the flavors of the Mediterranean would go perfectly, stuffed inside a tasty pepper. The flavors of this dish are a little more subtle than your big, bold, Tex-Mex stuffed pepper, but are delicious in their own right. And yes, I am aware that feta cheese would be the perfect addition to this recipe, but alas, I had none. I didn’t feel like hitting up the grocery store twice in one day once I came up with this idea. Furthermore, just the hint of Asiago allows the other flavors to shine through!

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Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients: 
  • 2 large bell peppers
  • 10oz chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup Greek vinaigrette
  • 1/2 cup of pearl couscous (dry)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 10 turns of black pepper
  • 2oz Asiago cheese
  • Water
Instructions: 
  1. Cut your chicken into small (even smaller than what I consider ‘bite-sized’) pieces. Combine the chicken with the vinaigrette, stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Once you’re ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Prepare the couscous. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add the couscous and lower heat to medium. Simmer until the water is absorbed and the couscous is al dente, ~6-8 minutes. (Note: there are wide variations in sizes of pearl couscous, and therefore variations in cooking times and water needed – follow your package instructions if you have them.) Set aside.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Saute the garlic for ~3 minutes.
  5. Now add the chicken and vinaigrette into the same pan. Saute the chicken over medium heat for 5 minutes, until no longer translucent. (Does not have to be fully cooked all the way through.)
  6. Turn off heat to the burner, but leave the pan where it is. Add the couscous, olives, lemon juice, oregano, pepper, and cheese to the pan. Stir to combine.
  7. Slice the very top off of the peppers and remove seeds & membranes from the insides.
  8. Stuff the couscous/chicken mixture into your peppers.
  9. Place the peppers upright in high-edged oven-safe dish. Add a thin layer of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

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Couscous Salad

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I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like lunch is kind of a struggle meal. I want to have something that tastes good, is easy to make, is portable to work/school, is pretty healthy, and keeps me full until dinner. That’s doable, but sometimes is just a little boring. Lunch just isn’t an exciting meal to me! When you think of lunch, what do you think of? Lunch just elicits the thought of a sandwich for me. I actually love sandwiches, but you can’t eat a sandwich every single day.

The other thing about lunch is that I don’t really ever think about making “a recipe”for lunch. I feel like I just throw something together. I think others feel the same way, judging from some recent social media posts I’ve seen from friends looking to add some variety to their brown-baggin’ it work lunches. Which led me to the realization that my simple, thrown-together lunch(es) might be something new for someone else.

This is one of my favorite go-to lunches. It pretty much hits all of my lunch criteria as above. Tastes good? Big old check. Easy to make? Check. Portable for work? Definite check. Reasonably healthy? Veggie-packed check. Keeps me full? Check, check, check. The portions I describe here gives me 3 or 4 lunches for a week, which simultaneously preps for a good portion of the week and leaves room for a little variety.

Like I said before, I don’t really follow a recipe for this and alter it probably every time. Try it this way. And next time, try some different vegetables, different dressing, or some additions like cheese or meats. The variation below uses Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette, my current obsession.

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Couscous Salad

Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced and quartered
  • 10 baby carrots, sliced
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 ear of corn, cooked/boiled and kernels removed
  • 2 tbsp Light Champagne Vinaigrette
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Bring the water, couscous, and bouillon cube to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat until water is absorbed and grain is soft, but not mushy. (Note: different sizes and variations of couscous may require more or less water. Follow given instructions if they differ from mine.)
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables.
  3. After couscous has cooked, drain if needed, and set aside to cool.
  4. Combine veggies, couscous, and dressing. Top with a few turns of black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Makes 3-4 lunch servings.

Now who has some new-to-me easy lunch ideas to share?