It’s Autumntime, It’s Autumntime…

Except the leaves aren’t really falling down here. But that’s not stopping me from getting in the mood for fall festivities. Especially when it comes to food!

One dish, in particular, takes me back to our first autumn in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The crisp air and long shadows while walking down E. 53rd Street, golds and deep reds of the leaves outside our high rise apartment window, wood smoke just beginning to make a regular appearance out of old brownstone chimneys… you could feel the impending harshness of winter start to creep its way in and, by the time Halloween came around, the cold air called out for stews, soups, and ciders.

Our friends, Ben and Christy, introduced us to a fabulous stew that really gets the senses going. And even though it’s never going to dip into temperatures low enough to warrant it here, I’m going to pretend that we are packing away our summer clothes, closing up our windows for the season, and otherwise getting ready for the chilly air to settle in and give us reason to make this:

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classic Moroccan chicken and vegetable couscous

From: “AMA Family Health Cookbook” (Barnard, Dojny, Hermann, and Callaway)
Makes 8 main-dish servings

This is an updated version of the traditional North African dish. Heap some hot, cooked couscous in the center of a platter and spoon the savory meat, vegetable, and dried fruit stew over it to create some festive and exotic dinner-party fare, Pass the fiery sauce known as harissa or Moroccan Hot Pepper Sauce (recipe follows) separately.

ingredients
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¾ pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut in rough 2-inch cubes
¾ tsp. salt, plus additional to taste, plus 1 ½ tsp.
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. curry powder
6 cups chicken broth
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 pound (about eight) slender carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch lengths
¾ pound white turnips, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 slender zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 ½ cups pitted prunes
1 cup golden raisins
3 cups raw couscous
1/3 cup commercial harissa or 1 cup Moroccan Hot Pepper Sauce

preparation
Heat oil in a very large, preferably non-stick skillet with a lid or a in a Dutch oven. Season the chicken with the ¾ teaspoon of salt and the cayenne pepper and cook over medium heat until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate, leaving the drippings in the pan.

Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and curry powder and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the broth, cinnamon sticks, carrots, and turnips. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes to partially cook the vegetables.

Add the chickpeas, zucchini, red pepper, prunes, and raisins. Return the chicken to the stew and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the vegetables are tender and the chicken no longer looks pink in the center; about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if necessary. (The recipe can be made several hours ahead to this point and refrigerated. Reheat gently before serving.)

Prepare couscous according to package directions.
Spoon out ½ cup of the stew liquid and blend it with the harissa.

Mound the cooked couscous in the center of a shallow soup bowl. Spoon the chicken and vegetables around the outside of the couscous and ladle the broth over them. Pass additional hot sauce at the table.

Moroccan hot pepper sauce
Makes about 1 cup (8 servings)
Spicy!!

ingredients
3 Tbs. dried red pepper flakes
1 ¼ tsp. ground coriander
1 ¼ tsp. ground cumin
¾  tsp. salt
¼ cup boiling water
5 tsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chicken broth or stew liquid (see above recipe)

preparation
In a small bowl, combine the red pepper flakes, coriander, cumin, and salt. Pour boiling water over the mixture and stir to combine. Mix in the olive oil and garlic. Set the mixture aside at room temperature to steep for 1 hour.

Whisk in the broth and serve. (This recipe can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before serving.)

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