I originally wanted to title this post The Unbearable Deliciousness Of Futzing.
Last weekend I had a craving. I had read in the Spring issue of Edible Brooklyn that a place over on 5th Ave. called Leskes has the best Half-Moon Cookies (aka Black & White Cookies) in the world. Now, there was a time in my life where I very nearly subsisted solely on these anomalous cookies. More cake than cookie, when properly executed they come dressed in an ooey gooey fudgy icing on one side with a crackly, sugary glaze on the other. I love, love, Half-Moon Cookies.
But alas. We got there too late. They were sold out. I got another cookie, something almondy with a sickly slick of chocolate “icing” in an attempt to compensate, but it failed.
However, lest you go playing tiny violins over the tragedy of my cookie travails, something good did come out of this fruitless trek. We discovered a little old man with a magical shop. Tucked into a tiny hole in the wall on the east side of 5th Avenue in the low 70s, dwells a display of short-lived, seasonal Middle Eastern fruits and vegetables.
Since we already had a date with pork, I had to leave the goodies there. The man promised he’d still be there next weekend, and he was. He said the almonds were getting old. That didn’t bother me I said because I was going to crack them open. No! he said, you eat them like this! He grabbed one and popped the whole thing in his mouth, fuzzies and all. He insisted the boy and I try it. Wow! What a weird experience. They’re fuzzy, yes, but no more so than a peach. What’s surprising is the overwhelming taste of green. Raw, earthy, springy. Green. And juicy! Green almonds must be the most looked forward to culinary arrival in the year to desert dwellers.
He also made us try a plum. It was the sourest thing I’ve ever tried, and I love sour. I asked about the apricots. He said they were even more sour. I declined his invitation to try one.
I bought a few good handful of the almonds and what, at the time, seemed like an ungodly amount of fava beans, still in the pod.
Who was the first person to eat a fava bean, and why? I hope they weren’t starving.
I’ve had fresh fava beans at restaurants before, and love cooking with the dried ones, but this was my first attempt at taking them from pod to pot. I’ve long admired all of Sher’s recipes using the beans she picks from her amazing backyard garden. I must admit, there was a degree of “Well if she can do it, I can do it” in taking on the fava shelling challenge, and I’m woman enough to admit that I will not being doing that again until there’s a tribe of Berbers living in the garden level apartment to help out.
It took me nearly two hours to shell the contents of my smallish bag. The boy had to do almost all the cooking of the stew. I stopped only long enough to tend my grains! Dear readers, shelled fresh favas are as easy to come by in these parts as iceberg lettuce. I hope you won’t think any less of me if I never shell my own again.
Yes, yes I am, but with good reason. I had to find an excuse to use my birthday present from the boy, my new kitchen bling. Yep, for my birthday, I was given a couscoussiere!
And, let me tell you this. I think that this pot is the secret to amazing North African and Middle Eastern dinners. I feel like if I reveal this to you the Moroccan Secret Police are going to come knocking at my door this evening and haul me away for revealing deep, dark culinary secrets. But I’m willing to tempt fate!
The stew that the couscous steamed over had only 8 ingredients in it, and yet it was so perfect, so profoundly tasty, that I would present this to Gordon Ramsay as my signature dish with no fear in my soul.
I think, and here’s the root of the root and the bud of the bud of a tree called dinner, the secret to perfect Moroccan stews is… The couscous that fall through the holes in the steamer portion of the couscoussiere breakdown whilst cooking and thicken the sauce. Also, since the stew is technically covered by the couscous, and yet the steam is still leaving the pot, the liquid becomes beautifully concentrated. There. There it is. I’ve done it. I’ve let the secret out of the bag!
But seriously, the chicken only cooked for about an hour and a half, and that 2 3/4 cup of liquid boiled down to the most beautiful and perfect gravy I’ve ever seen, and that wasn’t even what I was trying for! It perfectly coated each futzy bean and wrapped its deliciousness around the green almonds which added an almost grape like texture to the stew.
Couscoussiere’s are big and a little bulky but if you love Middle Eastern cuisine, I highly recommend running out to buy one or ordering one online today.
I’m sure they have other uses. Maybe for steaming vegetables? Or fish? Or rice? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Head below the jump for the recipe for Spring Chicken Stew with Couscous.
Spring Chicken Stew With Couscous
prep time: 15 minutes to 2 hours ~ cooking time 90 minutes
Cook’s Note: If you buy pre-shelled fava beans, your prep time will be on the low end of the range; if you shell your own favas the high end of the range. To prepare this dish without a couscoussiere you must have a metal colander that will fit snugly above a steaming pot of stew.
- 1 Sweet Onion, diced
- 6 cloves Garlic, sliced
- Olive Oil
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- 4 Chicken Thighs, rinsed and trimmed
- Cayenne Pepper, to taste
- Salt & Pepper
- about 1/2-3/4 c. White Vermouth
- 2 c. Water
- 1 1/2-2 c Couscous
- 1/2 c. Shelled Fava Beans
- 10-12 shelled Green Almonds
Sweat the onions and the garlic in a glug of olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom portion of a couscoussiere or a pot. When becoming brown add the turmeric, stir to coat, then add the chicken thighs. Allow to brown. When the chicken in a deep golden yellow, turn the heat up and add the vermouth. Allow to cook a few minutes and add the water. Bring to a boil, bring down to a simmer and cover the pot with the steamer portion of the couscoussiere or a colander.
Place the couscous in a bowl and sprinkle with cold water. Work the grains with your hands to moisten and break up lumps. Pour the couscous into the steamer and rake with your fingers to aerate. Allow to cook 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes turn the couscous out into the large bowl, season with salt, sprinkle generously with cold water and stir with a wooden spoon to break up lumps. Return the grains to the steamer. Allow to cook a further 30 minutes.
Turn the heat under the pot off. Pour the couscous into a large bowl. Add the fava beans and green almonds to the stew. Stir to incoporate.
Add a good drizzle of olive oil or a knob of butter to the couscous. Stir in until absorbed.
To serve: Place a mound of couscous on each plate with a piece of chicken and a good portion of the stew gravy. The chicken should fall off the bone. Mix it all together and try not to groan in delight. Enjoy!