This is a simple but exotic dish from Syria that is incredibly aromatic. It is made with everyday ingredients and takes just on 15 minutes to prepare to pop in the oven. I like to serve this with Giant Couscous but you can serve it with normal couscous, pasta, rice, polenta or even mashed potato.
My blogs are usually upbeat and cheerful, but I couldn’t possibly share a Syrian dish without acknowledging the unrest currently going on in Syria. Syria is a country that has been at civil war for almost 4 years. And the most devastating of this war, as with any war, is the effect on the innocent. More than a quarter of Syrians – 4 million people – have fled their homes to seek safety in neighbouring countries. 4 million people!
“There will come a time when Syria is once again a beautiful and peaceful country.”
And most heartbreaking of all is to think that more than half the refugees are children. Just think about your childhood. Then think about what millions of Syrian children must be going through right now. It puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? UNICEF has a Syrian Crisis Appeal if you would like to make a donation to support the children of Syria. You can click through to it here.
OK, time to lift the mood and move onto a cheerier topic.
Syria is a country that is bordered by the Mediterranean and the Middle East. So the food of Syria is a wonderful fusion of two of my favourite cuisines. Syrian recipes are often flavoured with spices that are frequently used in Middle Eastern dishes like turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. And the flavours are also very similar to neighbouring Mediterranean countries like Turkey.
“This is one of those dishes that will warm your soul. The fragrance that fills your house while it’s cooking is just incredible!”
If you like strong flavoured food with Arabic aromas, then you will love this dish. The chicken is seared with cumin, coriander and turmeric, then baked with a chili based tomato sauce. It is served on Giant Couscous which tastes just like ordinary couscous, but they are….well, giant!
Giant couscous is actually called Moghrabieh, Israeli or Pearl Couscous. But I started calling them Giant Couscous when I first cooked with them and I can’t shake the habit! Giant Couscous is used in Mediterranean / Middle Eastern cooking and it is made from wheat flour or semolina. It can be used like any other grain like pasta and rice, and you cook it like pasta. You can buy it at large supermarkets here in Australia in the pasta section next to the normal couscous.
If you can’t find Giant Couscous then the best substitute is risoni/orzo (the rice like shaped pasta) or rice. You could also use other types of pasta, or ordinary couscous. But truly, I urge you to try Giant Couscous. They are such a novelty! The slippery little pasta beads are simply perfect for scooping up with the rich sauce.
Love to hear what you think! And as always, if you have any questions at all, just leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 lb / 1 kg chicken thigh fillets , bone in and skin on (4 to 5 pieces) (see notes)
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp salt
- Black pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger , finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 onion , halved and finely sliced
- 2 birds eye chilis , finely chopped (or to taste) (see notes)
- 1/4 cup (combined) mint and coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 14 oz / 400 g canned crushed tomato
- 1 cup chicken stock / broth
- 1/8 tsp saffron powder (see notes)
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 3 sprigs of thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup dried currants or sultanas (optional) (see notes)
- 8 oz / 250 g giant couscous (Israeli or Pearl Couscous)
- Yoghurt (optional)
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Place chicken on a plate or in a large bowl. Sprinkle with Chicken Spices and use your hands to coat the chicken.
Heat olive oil in a large, oven proof fry pan over high heat.
Add chicken, skin side down, and sear until the skin is nicely browned. Turn chicken over and cook the other side until browned. Remove chicken from pan. Drain pan of excess oil.
Add onion, garlic, ginger and chili into the pan. Saute for 2 minutes until the onion is translucent and starting to brown.
Add canned tomato, chicken stock/broth, saffron powder, cumin powder and thyme. Bring to simmer, then turn the stove off. Nestle the chicken into the tomato broth, then cover with foil (or lid) and place into the oven. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the Giant Couscous according to packet instructions. Usually it just needs to be boiled in salted water for around 4 minutes, then drain it.
When the chicken is dark golden brown and cooked, remove from oven. Stir through dried currents (if using), lemon juice and half the mint and coriander. Then sprinkle over remaining mint and coriander.
Serve on Giant Couscous with a dollop of yoghurt, if using.
1. I really encourage you to make this with skin on, bone in chicken thigh fillets. I know it isn't as healthy as skinless and that bone in meat is not as easy to eat, but the crispy skin is one of the highlights of this dish and bone in meat is always juicier.
2. You can substitute the birds eye chili with 1/2 to 1 tsp chili powder (adjust quantity to your taste).
3. Giant Couscous (also known as Moghrabieh, Israeli or Pearl Couscous) is available in the pasta section alongside ordinary couscous in most large supermarkets. You can substitute with ordinary couscous, pasta (risoni/orzo), rice, polenta or even mashed potato.
4. The proper way of making this is with saffron threads. However, I use saffron powder because saffron threads are really expensive (it's the most expensive spice in the world!). You can substitute the saffron powder with a pinch of saffron threads.
5. I made the currants / sultanas optional because I am not the hugest fan of dried fruit in savoury food and I think that this dish has dust a strong flavour anyway that it isn't necessary. However, the traditional way of making this in Syria includes currants.
6. Nutrition per serving.