You'll be happy to know that I've kept my vow about not buying any new cookbooks until I've cooked just one recipe out of every book I already have. Well, kind of. I've sort of been cheating. While doing research for Annie's Birthday Fiesta I discovered that the Beverly Hills Public Library has a really great, expansive cookbook section. Much better than poor West Hollywood's tired and obvious selection. Leave it to the 90210. I've gone back a couple times and have been able to find several books that I've considered buying, so I figured why not give 'em a test run to see if I even want to buy them.
One of these books was called Moroccan Modern, by Hassan M'souli. I'd leafed through it before at Sur La Table and thought it looked interesting. As you know, I heart Moroccan food and would love to know more about it. Looking at the book more closely at home, a lot of the recipes looked delicious albeit somewhat time consuming. Sadly my schedule as of late has really eaten into my cooking time, so for now at least, some of those dishes just aren't meant to be. But then I came across this interesting lentil recipe. It takes but a handful of ingredients, many of them pantry staples, and not a lot of time. And it just so happened that after my last two experiments with the fiery North African condiment known as harissa (Harissa Spiced Snapper with Roasted Beet Salsa and Caramelized Carrot Puree and Grilled Harissa-Marinated Lamb with Moroccan Yogurt Sauce) I had the exact amount needed for the recipe leftover in a jar in my refrigerator. Perfect.
In the book the lentils are served with, if I remember correctly, kidney skewers or some such equally unappealing internal organ meat. Whatever it was, I didn't really want to go there. Instead I decided to combine it chicken marinated with harissa's condiment cousin, charmoula. For those who don't know, charmoula is simple sauce made from cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, and olive oil. The charmoula recipe I settled on I found on the internet, but it turned out to be courtesy of none other than Ms. Suzanne Goin. It seems I can't escape her influence. Not that I want to, of course.
CHARMOULA MARINATED CHICKEN
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup lentils
3 cups water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons harissa
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes (I used a can of whole, fire roasted tomatoes, which I crushed by hand and I combined it with one fresh tomato that I had on had and needed something to do with)
First make the charmoula. Stir cumin in small skillet over medium heat until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to mortar. Add garlic; pound with pestle until a sort of dry paste forms.
Transfer to bowl. Mix in cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Stir in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken breasts in a bowl and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Spoon over half the charmoula and, using your hands, massage into the chicken. Cover and let set for at least 30 minutes, although several hours would be better.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and spoon over a little more of the charmoula. Place in the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, rinse off the lentils and place in a small saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a fry pan over medium high heat. Add the scallions and harissa and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to combine.
Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 5 minutes. Add the drained lentils and cook for another five minutes.
Taste for seasoning and serve topped with the charmoula marinated chicken.
The charmoula sauce has a wonderful, herby vibrancy, a little heat and the beloved and always welcome presence of cumin and garlic. The sauce is similar to the Argentinian sauce, chimichurri. In fact, after a little research, they seem to be virtually identical. So much so that after comparing several recipes, I can't quite tell a difference, which is sort of interesting. Anyway, it's a great marinade for chicken and would work equally well spooned over lamb, skirtsteak, a hearty fish like swordfish, or even as a topping on a burger. It would be good to make for someone who thinks they don't like cilantro, as there are a lot of strong flavors going on that all sort of meld into one. I'm all about trying to get people to eat the foods they think the don't like.
The lentils mirror and intensify the subtle heat in the charmoula and add a nice sweetness from the tomatoes and the peppers in the harissa. This is a great weeknight dinner, as it takes very little time to prepare. If the chicken were cut into small pieces and threaded onto a skewer would cut the cooking time even further.