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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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.