Thursday 19 February 2009

Moroccan Soup with Chicken, Couscous, Mint and Lemon

Subtly spiced, with a zing of lemon and dried mint and a mild kick of red chilli, this gorgeous couscous and chicken soup takes a while to prepare but is so easy to make. Dried mint is essential for this dish. If you can't find dried mint in your local supermarket, dry a bunch of fresh mint in your oven a few hours before you make the soup (see notes, below). This soup is, for me, a near-perfect supper; I would be happy to eat it for lunch. And breakfast. It's good, nourishing family food too (if you have any picky eaters who don't do spice, use the left-over stock to make my Quick, Thick Chicken Soup For Kids)

Because this is a spiced soup, it needs a very strong chicken stock, and for this reason I have specified both a whole fresh chicken, and extra chicken bones (a chicken carcass, which you can ask your butcher for) or a pack of wings. The first part of this recipe - making the stock - can be done at your leisure (but do refrigerate the stock if you're making it early). The second part of the recipe should be started about thirty minutes before you serve.

This recipe is adapted from Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery by Ghillie Basan.

Moroccan Soup with Chicken, Couscous, Mint and Lemon

For the stock:

1 whole fresh chicken
an extra chicken carcass (leftover from the roast, or raw), or 8 wings
3 litres cool water
1 whole onion, skin on, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
a few stalks of parsley
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
a lemon, washed and quartered, but not peeled
1 4-cm stick cinnamon
1 T (15 ml) whole coriander seeds

salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the soup:
30 ml olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 fresh red chillies, to taste, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 T (15 ml) powdered cumin
1 T (15 ml) paprika
1 T (15 ml) dried mint (see notes, below)
1 T (15 ml) white sugar
4 T (60 ml) tinned tomato paste
3/4 cup (180 ml) couscous
salt and freshly milled black pepper

To serve:
fresh coriander leaves, chopped
a little grated lemon zest
dried mint
lemon wedges

First make the stock. Put the whole chicken and the chicken carcass (or wings) into a big pot, add the water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for half an hour, now and then skimming off any white scum that floats to the surface. Now add all the remaining stock ingredients, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for an hour and a quarter, or until the whole chicken is tender and cooked right through.

Remove the whole chicken, leaving the carcass and vegetables in the stock, place it in a colander set over a bowl, and set aside to cool. If you have time, simmer the stock for another hour or so. Now switch off the heat under the stock and allow to cool for half an hour. Using a metal spoon, skim off any fat that has floated to the surface.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a soup pot and add the onions and chilli. Fry over a medium heat until the onions are softened and beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, cumin, paprika, mint, sugar and tomato paste and cook for another minute.

Strain two litres of the chicken stock into this mixture and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, tip in the couscous and simmer for about ten minutes, or until the couscous is done. Season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.

When the chicken is cool enough, strip the meat from the carcass and shred it. Discard any skin or bone and keep it for a stock.

Set out the warmed soup dishes, and pile the shredded chicken into the centre of each soup dish. Ladle the soup around the chicken. Grate over a little lemon zest and sprinkle with a pinch of dried mint and a generous scattering of fresh coriander.

Serve with lemon wedges, to be squeezed into the hot soup.

Serves 6-8.

To dry fresh mint, wash a bunch of mint and strip off the leaves. Shake well. Spread the leaves loosely on a baking tray, and put them on the middle rack of your oven. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and bake until they are quite dry. Crumble the leaves and store in a clean, airtight jar for a up to a month.

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