In my lifetime, I haven’t accomplished as much world travel as I would like. I still have a lot of places to cross off the ole’ list. I have, however, been to Israel and during my time there I ate some of the best meals that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Israel is a a very food-centric country. Every day of life there is about what you will have to eat. So much value is placed on sharing meals with family and friends, sitting outdoors sipping coffee or tea and chatting for hours.
Every woman and I mean every woman is the best cook and although everyone always raves at the sheer deliciousness of what they’re consuming there is real sense of humility that comes with their culinary prowess which I find to be incredibly admirable. The most memorable meals of the trip were those made by families, often in their homes. My favorite being a 20-something course meal at a restaurant in Ein Hud run by a large Arab family. They don’t have a menu. You show up and whatever they are preparing that day is what you get. There is a matriarch who is in charge and she has all of her daughters with her in the kitchen. The men are the waiters. On this particular day we were greeted with freshly made hummus, pita, tabbouleh salad, baba ghanoush and several other small salads and dips. We sampled just about as much food as our stomachs could handle including, chicken hearts, the best mujaddara I have ever had and the dish that I just couldn’t get out of my mind: a ground lamb dish served with a tahini sauce.
This dish is a play on all of those flavors that I still remember so clearly. Tastes that bring me right back to that restaurant, sitting atop a hill on a painfully bright and sunny day, overlooking the ocean, thinking about the one lane dirt road that we had taken to get there and remembering what a blissful adventure life can be.
I hope this dish enlightens your palate to all the possibilities of the world like it did mine!
Mediterranean Braised Chicken with Tri-Color Cous Cous, Spiced Yogurt and Tahini
Serves 2-3 depending on how hungry you are
- 1 package chicken drumsticks
- 1 1/2 cup tri-color israeli cous cous, also known as pearl pasta
- 1 14.5 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 medium sized shallots, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced, one reserved
- zest and juice of half a lemon
- 3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons ras-el-hanout (a Morrocan spice blend, you can find this at Wegman’s)
- 1 tablespoon each ground cumin, coriander and turmeric
- 1/4 cup each fresh mint and fresh cilantro, minced
- small handful mixed greens (*optional)
- olive oil, salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium high heat. Pat the chicken drummies dry and season them with salt and pepper. Mix the ras-el-hanout, cumin, coriander and turmeric together in a small bowl and use half of the spice blend to season the chicken. Sprinkle it onto the drummies and rub it in real good. Sear the chicken drummies in the olive oil until they are golden brown on all sides and remove to a plate.
Add the shallots and garlic to the pot and cook for one to two minutes until they have softened. Pour in the cous cous and stir around to toast the pasta. When the pasta and aromatics are starting to smell really good and are just beginning to brown, add in the chickpeas and deglaze the pot with the white wine. Next, add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Put the drummies back into the pot, put the lid on the pot and throw into the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, the cous cous will have drunk up all that delicious liquid. Once again, remove the drummies and set back onto your plate. Stir the mint, cilantro and pine nuts into the cous cous and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare the yogurt, put the reserved minced clove of garlic and the juice from the half of the lemon and the remainder of the spice blend into a bowl and stir in the yogurt until it comes together.
I simply can’t eat a meal without greens so I put my little handful of greens down in the center of the plate. Top the greens with the cous cous “pilaf” and stack the drummies on top. I drizzled the spiced yogurt and some tahini all over the top.
This meal brought me right back to a perfect moment in my time here on this Earth, an edible memory. YUM