Harissa Chicken Bowls with Israeli Couscous, Greens, & Fennel

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There’s a reason for my months-long absence, which I won’t go into too much detail about; I was pregnant, and therefore too nauseous and exhausted to eat much, let alone experiment with new recipes, then photograph and post them. I was 14 and a half weeks when I miscarried, just on the verge of feeling more like myself. We were completely shocked and sad to lose the baby, and are focused on healing as a family.

A lot of people commented on how it must be especially hard to experience loss around the holidays, but I don’t totally agree. The festivities and family in town allowed me to focus on something happy, and to have plenty of days to look forward to. Plus, Phoebe is so joyful that I didn’t stay gloomy for long. She loves Christmas lights; we spent several evenings walking around the neighborhood, her little face aglow with blue, red, green lights as she delicately cupped each one, reciting the colors in her sweet voice. She liked to point and shout, “Soman!” at every snowman decoration she saw. She met real-life Santa for the first time, and was entranced (but only when we accompanied her up to his alcove).

On Christmas Eve we made spiced sugar cookies. I dunked them in a glaze and set them before Phoebe, who carefully dropped pinches of red and green sprinkles and set tiny sugar pearls, one by one, on the shining cookies. Little dexterous fingers, tiny concentrated mouth. That evening, a Barber celebration full of charcuterie, piles of gifts turned to piles of shredded paper dusting the floor, good cheer.

Christmas morning was early for us; I prepped hot chocolate the night before so when we awoke at 5:45am, groggy and not quite matching Phoebe’s energy level, we would shortly have something warm to sip while festivities commenced. Phoebe nibbled on the cookie crumbs “Santa” had left while I read her his letter, then she took to opening the gifts with gusto. She was fully engaged with each present, like each was the only one, pausing only when we showed her there was something else from Santa. A tiny mouse with a silk dress in a suitcase, a soccer ball, several books, a box of empty balloons, the teal scooter real-life Santa had promised her.

Later that morning, more hot chocolate, ginger scones, frittata around the fire at my parents’ house. A beautiful, beckoning pile of presents soon turned to shreds, bits of tape sticking to our socks as we walked through the happy destruction. Books, socks, shoes, toys, kitchenwares in separate piles to take home. Nap time, then a cool walk under a hazy purple-grey sky melting into the ocean. Warming beef stew with the sweetest roasted tomatoes sending a zing through rich broth. Bed time, another Christmas come and gone. So yes, losing a baby at 14 weeks was terrible, but the holidays lifted my spirits and allowed me to focus on the joy still present everywhere around me.

The first meal I had post-baby was a grain bowl from Zameen’s on 41st Avenue. Everything in it tasted incredible since I was suddenly nausea-free; I stuffed myself with harissa chicken, greens, hummus, pickled onions, and tiny pearl-like couscous speckled with crunchy almonds and tart dried cranberries. It was so good I created my own version of their grain bowl which, fortunately, is just as good.

Note: don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. Broken down into steps, this is a super easy meal to make and all comes together rather quickly. Make the hummus a day or two before and marinate the chicken up to 24 hours before grilling—your dinner will be a cinch to make.

Harissa Chicken Bowls with Israeli Couscous, Greens, & Fennel

Serves 4–5 | inspired by a meal at Zameen’s in Santa Cruz | couscous recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats blog

for the chicken:
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup harissa paste
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from half a lemon
freshly cracked black pepper
3 tsp kosher salt

for the couscous:
2 cups Israeli (pearled) couscous*
generous 1/2 cup dried cranberries
scant 1/2 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped

zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
juice from half a lemon

*Some couscous comes toasted. If that’s the case, skip the toasting step in my recipe.

for the veggies:
1 medium fennel bulb
1 pint cherry tomatoes

for the dressing:
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (sub balsamic vinegar if you have to)
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
a few cracks of black pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

to serve:
a few big handfuls of baby arugula or watercress, any tough stalks removed, washed and dried
seeds from 1 pomegranate (read below for seeding method)
large handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
hummus, homemade or store bought

At least 2 hours and up to 24 hours ahead of cooking, prepare the chicken. In a medium bowl, stir 1/4 cup harissa paste, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 3 tsp kosher salt, and several cracks of fresh black pepper together until smooth. Add 2 lbs chicken thighs and stir to coat in the marinade. Cover and keep in the fridge until time to cook.

Turn your grill on high and let it preheat for 15 minutes (this is a good time to start the other elements below). When it’s ready, use tongs to space the chicken out across the hotter parts of the grill. Leave to cook for 5 minutes, then turn the thighs over and cook for another 5-7 minutes. The chicken is ready when the internal temperature is 165°F. Use a meat thermometer—we like this one—for the best and safest results. Keep turning the chicken thighs every few minutes until the correct temperature is reached. Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest while you finish prepping the rest of the ingredients. (If you don’t have access to a grill, you can cook your chicken thighs on a foil-lined baking sheet directly under your oven’s broiler for about 15 minutes. Flip the thighs a couple of times during baking and go off internal temperature for best results.)

Make the couscous: in a dry pan over medium heat toast 2 cups Israeli couscous, shaking the pan often to ensure even cooking, about 4 minutes. Add the toasted couscous to a medium saucepan along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the temperature to low, cover, and cook for 8-9 minutes (all the water should be absorbed). Spoon into a large bowl. Mix in a generous 1/2 cup dried cranberries and scant 1/2 cup chopped almonds. In a small mason jar or bowl, mix the zest of 1 orange, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, and juice of 1/2 a lemon. Pour this dressing over the couscous and mix to combine everything. Taste and add salt as needed. Set aside to cool.

Prepare your veggies: trim the stalks and root end off the fennel and discard any grungy outer bits. Slice the bulb in half and cut out the root. Using a Benriner or Mandoline for consistent results, or a very sharp knife if you don’t have one of those, thinly slice the two fennel bulb halves and add to a large bowl. Rinse the cherry tomatoes, slice each in half, and add to the bowl with the fennel. Toss with a generous pinch or two of salt and a sprinkle of olive oil. Taste and add more of each if you’d like.

Crack or slice your pomegranate in half. Fill a medium bowl with cold water and break one pomegranate half up over the water, removing the seeds and dropping them into the water as you go. Don’t worry if a little of the white membrane gets in there as well, you can take that out later. Keep going until all the seeds are in the water, then break any clumps apart and fish out pieces of the membrane (most should float to the top, making it easier to fish out by hand or with a small sieve). Drain the seeds and set aside.

Finally, make the dressing: In a mason jar, combine 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (sub balsamic vinegar if you have to), juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp), 1/4 tsp fine sea salt, a few cracks of black pepper, and 6 tbsp olive oil. With the lid on, shake the jar until the dressing is homogenous.

To serve: Place a handful of arugula or watercress in each bowl, then top with a generous spoonful of veggies. At this point, pour a little dressing into each bowl, as it’s primarily for the greens and veg. Top with a couple large spoonfuls of couscous, a thinly sliced chicken thigh in each bowl, and a big dollop of hummus. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and parsley. (Alternatively, bring all the separate components to the table and allow eaters to make their own bowls.) Enjoy!

2 responses to “Harissa Chicken Bowls with Israeli Couscous, Greens, & Fennel”

  1. What a picture you painted with words, I felt as if I was in there with all the Christmas spirit, excitement and family energy. I was saddened to hear the news of your loss as you shared in such a beautiful way how you appreciate what you have now. It is so important to continue to capture the moments and mindfully being grateful for what we have. Love you Hana and sending you heart bubbles (a saying we use at preschool when we think of a friend) ❤️

    • Thank you, Karyn! I love the heart bubbles, what a good metaphor 🙂 It really was helpful to have so much positive family and friends time soon after such a big loss. I hope you guys had a lovely holiday as well!

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