A good roast chicken is one of the great pleasures of life. It is easy to make (I can prepare it in advance and Santa Maria can pop it in the oven—there's very little active labor), extremely delicious (especially that crispy and salty skin), fairly healthy (if you forsake that crispy skin), and the kids love it (which makes everything easy). I roast a bird just about once a week during the winter. This works well, until I tire of eating it, which is what happened last week.
I'm often thinking one day ahead about what to make, and last Sunday I had a chicken in the fridge and I wanted to do something other than roast it for Monday night's dinner. I love coq au vin, and once made it so frequently that Nina, who was just learning to talk, could always get a good laugh out of me by asking for "quauk o van," but it has been a least a year since I last prepared it. I wasn't sure that the kids would still like it (mushrooms are a tough sell around here lately), but it is a dish that can be made the night before and served a day later without much loss of flavor. I decided to review the recipe, and give it a bit more thought.
I picked up my iPod and flipped to the "How to Cook Everything" application. Right next to the "Chicken in Red Wine Sauce (Coq au Vin)" recipe was an entry for "Chicken with Lentils." I was enticed. Chicken and lentils are two things that Nina and Pinta like.
Bittman described the meal as "a simple, spicy North African-style dish made in one pot," and that sounded very good to me. I looked at the calender and realized that the following night I Santa Maria would be with the kids for dinner (I would be at work), and I was completely sold. I could make something new that the kids should like and I could avoid actually having to serve it to them: A perfect situation for me.
On Sunday night, I gleefully cut up the chicken and cooked the recipe (making just a few minor adjustments, which I've incorporated into the recipe below), planning to coast to an easy after-work dinner the following night. Then fate intervened.
Pinta got sick, and was up much of the night. Santa Maria ended up taking care of her. I volunteered to come home early from work to give her a break, which meant that I would be the one serving dinner to the girls. Yikes.
As it turned out, I took a bit of my own advice about serving a new dish to them. I asked Nina how she would like her meal--with the chicken, rice, and lentils separated, or with them all together. She wanted them separated and I plated it that way for her. She ate the chicken, which was coated in the sauce, downed her rice, and then tried the lentils. The verdict--she didn't like them. But she had a good dinner, and there was no drama. Whew.
Pinta, for her part, didn't have much of an appetite and had just a bit of applesauce. I can't help thinking it was easier just having to think about feeding one of them. As for the stew, I really enjoyed it, and I'll make it again. I had it for lunch the following day. It just kept getting better and better the longer it sat around.
North African Chicken and Lentil Stew
- Olive Oil
- 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into 8 pieces with the skin removed (taking the skin off is optional, some would say, even, undesirable, but I like to cook as healthy a dish as I can)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 three-inch cinnamon sticks
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 28 ounce can of peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1+ teaspoon chopped cilantro
- 1 cup brown lentils, washed and picked over
Put 3 cups of water in a kettle or pan and heat to a near boil.
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven on a high flame until it is shimmering.
Add the chicken pieces in one layer and cook until the pieces brown. Turn as necessary.
After the chicken is browned, remove it from the pan and set aside in a bowl.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and pour off any excess oil.
Add the onion and cinnamon sticks and saute until the onion is softened.
Add the garlic and ginger and saute a bit more, until fragrant.
Add the coriander and stir for about 30 seconds.
Add the tomatoes and their juices along with the 3 cups of water, the cilantro, and the lentils.
Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover.
Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are nearly tender.
Take out the cinnamon sticks and add the chicken.
Cover and continue to cook for about another 10-20 minutes, or until the chicken is 165 degrees in the thigh.
Salt and pepper to taste and serve with rice of crusty bread.