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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Easy Weeknight Mediterranean Pizzas

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We’re a big Trader Joe’s household, as we’ve probably mentioned a few times. There are several Trader Joe’s staples that we always have around for quick dinners or late night snacks. Their Greco-Roman little pizzas come two to a box and are one of our favorites. So you can imagine our disappointment when two weeks in a row there were not any in the store! What were we supposed to stock our fridge with?? Assuming they were on back-order, we asked a staff member when they’d be back. We were informed that they might have been permanently discontinued!

I was disappointed for a little while, and then I realized that I could recreate our favorite little pizza. While we usually like to post from-scratch recipes on here, I wanted to keep with the quickness and ease of a freezer boxed pizza. And since I was already at Trader Joe’s when I had this brilliant idea – all of the ingredients are from there too!

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Easy Weeknight Mediterranean Pizza

Ingredients / What you need at Trader Joe’s 🙂 
  • 1 package of naan (4 pieces)
  • 1 bottle of truffle oil (1 tsp per pizza)
  • 1 container of pizza sauce (1-2 tbsp per pizza)
  • 1 bag of mozzarella cheese (~1 oz per pizza)
  • 1 red bell pepper (chopped, divided between pizzas)
  • 1 jar kalamata olives (chopped, ~5 per pizza)
  • 4oz log goat cheese
Instructions: 
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pour truffle oil onto each piece of naan. Spread around, all the way to the edges, with your fingers or the back of a spoon.
  3. Spoon pizza sauce on next. Spread around, leaving the edges uncovered for a crust.
  4. Top the sauced area with the shredded cheese.
  5. Follow this with the red peppers and kalamata olives. Crumble some goat cheese and add a few dollops here and there on top.
  6. Place directly on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your edges!

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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Northern African Braised Chicken

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This recipe is another prime example of why we created this blog. We first made this recipe a few years ago for Selim’s father and sister. We all loved it then! I was thinking about how delicious it was the other day, but could not for the life of me remember where I got the recipe from! I was convinced it was from Jerusalem, an excellent cookbook of Middle Eastern recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I paged through it over and over trying to find the recipe to no avail. (Literally I did this for a good 45 minutes.) I followed this up by googling “chicken recipe braised harissa olives.” Google isn’t perfect after all… Turns out, I had the entirely wrong cookbook in mind.

This recipe is in fact from Best Ever Slow Cooking, another favorite of mine. This recipe brings the flavors of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa into a delicious braised one-pot dish. We made a fair amount of changes to the original recipes, but stayed pretty true to the flavors I think.

The aromas coming out of our Le Creuset evolved as this recipe progressed.  Initially, you’re hit with the crackling of the chicken searing on the stove that fills the air with a warmth that only cooking fat brings.  Once you toss in the onions and garlic, there is that familiar aroma of things to come.  After adding all the ingredients to the pot, you’ll be flooded with African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean scents as the cumin, harissa, cinnamon, citrus, and saffron meld together with the chicken fat, onions, and garlic.  The little saffron threads will dominate as this recipe cooks for an hour or longer.  Trust me, even as I write this well after dinner is done and we’re a few glasses into our lovely bottle of Virginia chardonnay from DelFosse, the whole house smells like saffron and we couldn’t be happier about that.  We hope you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as we have.

Northern African Braised Chicken

Adapted from Best Ever Slow Cooking
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 6 bone-in chicken thighs (we prefer skinless)
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 2/3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
  • 1 lemon [1/4 tsp of lemon zest, 2 slices, & the juice of the rest of the lemon]
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 cup of sliced kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste

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Instructions: 
  1. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, sear the chicken thighs on both sides. Remove from pot after seared and set aside.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic in the same pot, also over medium heat, for ~10 minutes. They should be browning and quite fragrant by this time.
  3. Sprinkle the cumin over the onions and garlic. Stir and saute for another minute.
  4. Pour the stock and lemon juice into the pot and deglaze the pot. (Scrape the bottom of the pot to get all of the delicious bits loose and back into the liquid.)
  5. Add the cinnamon stick, harissa, saffron, and lemon zest. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  6. Now lower heat to a low simmer. Add the chicken back into the pot, plus the lemon slices and olives. Arrange so the chicken is covered with the liquid, as much as possible.
  7. Cover and cook over low heat for ~1 hour. Stir once halfway through cooking.
  8. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Top with the chopped cilantro.
  9. Serve over rice, couscous, lentils, or whatever grain you would like.

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Makes 6 servings.