Za'atar Chicken with Colourful Israeli Cous Cous

Israeli cous cous or ptitium is a type of toasted pasta shaped into little balls. It was developed between 1949-1959 as a wheat based substitute for rice. Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister contacted a food manufacturer to develop it when rice supplies were scarce.

Despite the fact that I cook Latin American food for a living, I would have to say my comfort food is either Italian or Middle Eastern. I think I enjoy the idea of many dishes prepared and plopped in the middle of the table for all to share. In Middle Eastern cuisine I love the use of warm spices such as cumin and when it is combined with tangy flavours like preserved lemon or pomegranate, it really is a winning combination.

This dish was invented and prepared for filming for a competition I currently am in called eatliststar. It contains a few base elements such as za'atar and pomegranate molasses that are hard to come by in Singapore so I decided to make my own. Recipes for these are found at the bottom of this post.

THE RECIPE

Serves 4

Za'atar Chicken - Ingredients

8 chicken thighs, bone out, skin on or 4 chicken breasts, skin off

16g/4heaped teaspoons of za'atar spice mix

50g good extra virgin olive oil

4g/1tsp sea salt

The Method

Trim chicken of excess fat and sinew

Mix olive oil, salt and za’atar together and smother all over the chicken.

Allow to marinate while you prepare the salad

Once salad is prepared, heat fry pan over a medium heat. Fry the chicken (skin side down first) until golden, turn the chicken over and fry until cooked through

Set aside to allow to cool slightly. Cut thighs in half diagonally. If you are using chicken breast, cut into quarters.

Cous Cous Salad - Ingredients

160g Israeli cous cous

350g water

½ tsp/4g good sea salt

½ tsp or 130g large yellow capsicum

8pcs or 100g ruby red cherry tomatoes

15g flat leaf parsley leaves

15g mint leaves

30g of rocket

70g black or golden raisins

20g extra virgin olive oil

1 – 2 tbsp /5-8g pomegranate molasses

½- 1 tsp sea salt

The Method

Boil salt and water together in a saucepan.

Once the water is boiling add couscous, turn temperature down to low and cover with a lid

Allow to cook for 5-8minutes until couscous is tender

Drain couscous and rinse with cold water. Set aside in a large bowl

De seed and slice capsicum into rough 1cm size cubes

Cut cherry tomatoes into quarters

Roughly chop mint and parsley leaves

Add capsicum, tomatoes, raisins, herbs, rocket, olive oil and salt to the cooked couscous

Finally add the pomegranate molasses and plate onto serving dishes

Top the salad with the chicken and garnish with pomegranate seeds, a good spoon of labneh or yoghurt and a sprinkling of extra za’atar

You can also check out the video here.

* Substitute Notes

If you don;t have these exact ingredients on hand, you can add or play around with whatever you have. The za'atar mix can be replaced with any kind of spice blend and pomegranate molasses can be substituted for a good thick balsamic. The Israeli cous cous can be substituted for regular cous cous, barley, small sized pasta or even quinoa

*Ingredient Notes

Za’atar is the name of a Middle Eastern herb and the name of a spice mix. Maimonides, a 12th Century Jewish philosopher sait it was fantastic brain food. Variations use fresh thyme, marjoram or oregano. This is a dry spice mix which I can keep in my pantry to last a little longer.

The Recipe - makes about 100g

4tblsp/40g white sesame seeds, 4tblsp/25g sumac, 2tsp/8g sea salt, 2tblsp/12g cumin seeds, 4tblsp/10g dried thyme

Toast the sesame seeds until golden, set aside and allow them to cool. Toast the cumin seeds. Rely on your sense of smell rather than on the colour for the cumin. Blend all the ingredients together and store in a sealed glass jar.

Pomegranate Molasses is a sweet and sour syrup that is used in many middle eastern countries where pomegranates are widely available. It differs in flavour profile depending on the type of pomegranates used.

The Recipe - makes about 180mls

330mls pomegranate juice, 45g lemon juice, 60g sugar

Put all the ingredients in a deep heavy base saucepan. Boil until the sugar is dissolved. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 40 minutes until it is reduced to a nice syrupy consistency. Allow to cool slightly before pouring into a clean glass jar with a tight seal.