Grilled Chicken with Harissa & Mint and Herbed Lemon Couscous


Grilled Chicken with Harissa & Mint  |  Herbed Lemon Couscous


Intro Collage

I have never found myself particularly attracted to the cuisine of the Middle East, India, Thailand, Africa or the Mediterranean.  Not because of any dislike mind you but rather ignorance.  Not having been introduced to those foods growing up, my tastebuds were honed on roast beef and mashed potatoes rather than lamb meatballs with barberries, yogurt & herbs.  Don’t get me wrong…I love roast beef and mashed potatoes, but, as I educate myself and look for ways to improve/balance our American diet, I find myself drawn to the cooking of those regions.  If you follow this space regularly, you know that I have fallen in love with Yotam Ottolenghi’s & Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, A Cookbook.  The more I cook from that volume the more I find myself craving those tastes and smells.  Nigel Slater hit the proverbial nail on the head for me when, in his The Kitchen Diaries he writes {referring to the foods of these warmer climates}:  “Much has to do with fragrance.  It is what makes me buy an ingredient, it is what brings me to the table.  Mint, garlic, rosewater, lemons…cilantro, cumin, orange blossom water.  These are the scents that make me want to cook, that make me want to eat.”

Harissa, “a hot chili paste that is commonly found in North African cooking, mainly Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian cuisine” is new territory for me.  I do not know what prompted me to select this Grilled Chicken with Harissa & Mint for our menu when I came across the original recipe in The Kitchen Diaries but, for whatever the reason, it caught my attention.  Unsuccessful in finding the key ingredient…harissa {the closest I found was a tomato & roasted red pepper harissa sauce, which I bought “just in case”}…I was left to make my own.  After doing quite a bit of research, I settled on this recipe as a starting point based on several positive reviews.  The recipe is quite simple and I had most of the ingredients on hand, with the exception of the caraway seeds for which I substituted ground anise seed…


The peppers before & after steeping…

The final paste…



The resulting mixture was quite aromatic but a finger taste of my production left me running for a glass of ice water…it was the HOTTEST thing I have ever tasted in my life!  How was I supposed to serve this to my family?  Plan B:  I would resort to the “just in case” sauce I had purchased.  Here it is, sitting to the right and just below my heated concoction…

Or Plan C:  make a totally different recipe, a known family favorite.  I put the matter aside while I tended to children and after-school activities all afternoon.  Arriving home hours later, scorched tastebuds almost completely recovered and with a renewed sense of adventure, I forged on as originally planned.  The recipe called for adding a bit of the harissa {among a few other ingredients} to yogurt.  I opted to use a Labneh {a Lebanese-style, strained yogurt which I recently learned about from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks } that I had made over the weekend in place of regular yogurt…

IMG_0863The cooling effect the yogurt had on the harissa was SHOCKING.  The creamy mixture absorbed most of the heat of the harissa while leaving behind the exotic flavor of the aromatic spice blend.  Rewarded for my bravery, the chicken came off the grill a beautiful {and absolutely delicious} success!


Harissa Paste {adapted from Eastern Food}

  • 10-12 dried red chili peppers, stemmed & seeded {I used a combination of ancho chiles & chiles de Árbol}
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  1. Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a food processor combine chili peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend.
  3. Add remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste.
  4. Store paste in an airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh. Harissa will keep for a month in the refrigerator.

Grilled Chicken with Harissa & Mint {adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater}

  • 2 tablespoons harissa paste
  • 1/3 cup Labneh or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 11 chicken thighs, bone-in & skin-on
  • 1-2 handfuls of fresh mint leaves
  1. Prepare a charcoal grill.
  2. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with a paper towel.  Arrange chicken {in a single layer} in a large roasting dish.  Set aside.
  3. Stir the harissa paste into the yogurt and then whisk in the olive oil, salt & pepper.
  4. Coat the chicken pieces with the harissa/yogurt mixture and grill until fully cooked through and skin is well-browned in spots.  Return grilled chicken to the roasting pan {which has been cleaned out} and scatter the mint leaves over the hot chicken.  Allow to stand 5-10 minutes before serving.  Serve with Herbed Lemon Couscous {recipe follows}.

A spinach salad was originally on this evening’s dinner menu but, after enjoying one for lunch, I decided to put together a simple couscous.  It cooks up in just minutes and I wanted to add some lemon and parsley to balance the intense flavors the chicken would deliver…

Couscous Collage

Herbed Lemon Couscous

  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ of a white onion, peeled and minced
  • Rind from 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grape seed oil
  • ¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
  • 1 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  1. In a medium saucepan bring water, salt & butter to a boil.  Add couscous and stir.  Remove from heat and cover.  Let stand for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet, over medium-high heat, until shimmering {but not smoking}.  Add onion to skillet and cook until just beginning to soften, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in preserved lemon and continue to cook until warmed and fragrant, 2-3 more minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and add the cooked onion and lemon mixture to the couscous, using a fork to fluff the couscous and blend the onion and lemon.  Toss in the parsley & pine nuts and stir to combine.  Serve immediately.

The final dinner plate…


Before I go…

Look what appeared today.  My first tomatoes!  They weren’t there when I watered this morning but Michael spotted them while we were enjoying a glass of wine on the deck before dinner.  So small, but they already smell heavenly...

Tomato Collage


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4 thoughts on “Grilled Chicken with Harissa & Mint and Herbed Lemon Couscous

  1. Hi,

    I’m a friend of Beverly Jacobs (actually more than a friend-we share a grandson, Logan O’Mahony). I love your recipes and your writing. I’ve tried several recipes, most recently the Pasta Primavera. I also love the salad with pistachios, goat cheese, and roasted pears. As delicious as the recipes are, I also find sustenance in your writing which really reflects how cooking allows us to nourish both our bodies and our souls.

    Gayle Taylor

    • Gayle, thanks so much for your kind words! I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Logan {and his exceptional parents} some weeks ago…what a treasure he is! Cassie, Galway & Logan are such a wonderful family. I am so happy that you have enjoyed some of the recipes but, on a higher note, I am ecstatic that you see how a family meal can, in your own words, nourish both our bodies & our souls!

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