Many nights, about 45 minutes seems to be the amount of time I prefer to take to cook a weekday dinner. I guess I am a bit more patient than the average person who spends about 27 minutes according to Michael Pollan in his book Cooked. And then you have the research that shows the more time you spend cooking dinner the healthier it will be. Is it possible to have both speed in the kitchen and healthy cooking? I think so.
In this Middle Eastern inspired recipe, using pounded chicken breasts for quick and even cooking is one strategy. Another is using sauteed onions and robust spices like curry powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Israeli couscous cooks in just 10 minutes, finishing just about the same time as the chicken breasts and nicely absorbing the warm and mildly spicy flavors of the seasonings. The sweet dates go well with the curry or you can substitute dried apricots or currants. If you have the time, roasting the almonds gives them a deeper flavor and I’ve included a quick method in the notes. Cilantro is optional (I’ve made it both with and without) but does add it’s characteristic touch of refreshing flavor and a fleck of color.
- 2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced onion (1/2 large onion)
- 2 teaspoons sliced garlic (1 large clove)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon (or more if you like it spicier) cayenne pepper
- 1-1/2 cups Israeli couscous
- 2-1/4 cups water or chicken broth
- ½ cup pitted dates, halved
- ⅓ cup coarsely chopped unsalted whole almonds (roasted for a deeper flavor - see notes)
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)
- In between wax paper or in a sealed plastic bag, pound chicken breasts to about ¾-inch thick. Cut each breast in half, lengthwise, to make 4 fairly equal pieces; season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet (with a fitted lid). Add chicken and quickly sear just until browned, about 2 minutes then turn and repeat with other side; remove. Add additional 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet then add onions and cook and stir until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes; add garlic, curry, cinnamon and cayenne and cook and stir just to release flavors, about 1 minute. Add couscous and cook and stir just until lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Add water and dates and stir. Return browned chicken to skillet in a single layer and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to a low simmer and cook just until couscous is softened, water is absorbed and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped almonds and cilantro.
Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add almonds and cook and stir until slightly darkened, about 2 to 3 minutes); remove from heat and allow cooling.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roast almonds on a baking sheet until slightly darkened, about 10 minutes; remove from heat and allow cooling.