This recipe almost didn’t happen. Dragged down by a nasty cold, I almost took a bye this week. Hunkered down under a blanket on the couch, flipping through Nigella Lawson’s newest cookbook, Simply Nigella, I found a recipe for which I already had most of the ingredients, that required very little hands-on time, and used a single pot. Sold.
My girl-crush on Nigella Lawson is no secret. I started watching her on the Cooking Channel when I was pregnant with our oldest and kept watching while nursing him. She’s intelligent and warm and gorgeous and refreshingly practical. It was her show (and book) Nigella Express that gave me a little boost out of my postpartum depression and inspired me to get back into the kitchen. Everything seemed so incredibly overwhelming in those early months, but she made it seem possible to once again enjoy the cooking I had so loved and missed. One evening my husband went out to a formal event for work and although I was in no place physically or mentally/emotionally to join him, I had my own party. G spun around in his Exersaucer while I made myself pasta carbonara and fruit with butterscotch sauce. That meal, eaten in my pajamas on the couch (while on and off nursing a baby), easily makes my lifetime top ten food experiences.
Simply Nigella differs from other books of hers (that I’ve read) in that the recipes are less, well, hedonistic (my miracle carbonara from above included bacon, wine, butter, cheese and heavy cream). The introduction is (of course) beautifully written and describes cooking for oneself in terms of self-care, not just because when we cook we tend to use better ingredients than pre-packaged foods contain, but that the act itself has a therapeutic value. The recipes in this book are not frenzied, designer meals (though they are beautiful), but rather achievable dishes using wholesome ingredients. Calorie counts are nowhere to be found. It’s food for nourishment and pleasure, with no expectation to offset it on the treadmill.
The recipe is below, with my notes in bold.
Chicken Cosima (serves 6)
- 2-3 tbsp all purpose flour my husband and I agreed that more flour next time would be a nice addition to give the liquid a little more body. I would increase to 1/4 cup
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander I had whole coriander seed, which I mashed up pretty well in a mortar and pestle. Didn’t notice any hulls or stems in the final dish, so I’d do it that way again
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika My Hungarian heritage requires me to say here that high quality paprika makes a huge difference. If you can find it, imported Hungarian sweet paprika is the way to go. Hot or smoked paprikas are NOT equivalent.
- 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes or kosher salt Coarse salt. If you use fine sea salt, reduce the amount or wait until the end to add it.
- 6 large boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks I didn’t plan well and my chicken was still a bit frozen in the middle. This actually made it easier to cut and did not affect the end result.
- 1 tablespoon cold-pressed coconut oil or regular olive oil I used light olive. I have some refined coconut oil (husband hates coconut) but it solidifies in the winter and I didn’t feel like chiseling it out of the jar.
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped hardest part of the recipe, especially if you’re a super sensitive onion crier like me.
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into one-inch chunks
- 2 cups hot chicken broth I use Better Than Boullion concentrate. The taste can’t be beat and I can make small amounts of broth for recipes and not be stuck with half a box of it in the fridge. It takes up very little space in the fridge and cup for cup is much more economical than canned or boxed broth.
- 3 cups chickpeas, home cooked or drained from cans That’s 2 cans.
- chopped fresh cilantro, to serve More often than not I skip the sprinkle of herbs at the end but I had cilantro left from the pho last week and do think it made a difference in this dish.
- Preheat the oven to 400. So… I forgot the first step, which added a bit of time to my dish but was not the end of the world. Still, don’t forget to preheat the oven.
- Measure the flour, spices, and salt into a resealable bag and then tip in the chicken. Shake the bag around to coat the chicken with the floury spice. I shook the bag once before adding the chicken to make sure the spices were evenly distributed in the flour.
- Heat the oil in a wide Dutch oven or pan (with a lid), and then fry the onion until softened but not really colored. We call our Le Cruset Dutch oven “the magic pot”, partly because everything that comes out of it is delicious and partly because no matter what we cook in it, it cleans beautifully. You don’t need an enameled cast iron vessel for this, just make sure what you’re using is oven-safe.
- Add the chicken and all the contents of the bag to the pan, and stir around for a minute or so, then add the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes and stir again. “A minute or so” – this is why I love Nigella. We’re not formulating a polio vaccine here, it’s just dinner. Relax!
- Pour in the hot broth, then bring the pan up to a boil and tip in the drained chickpeas. Give it another good stir, then clamp on the lid and put in the oven for 25 minutes. It doesn’t say here, but I always rinse canned chickpeas. Because my chicken went in a little icy, I increased cooking time to 30 minutes.
- Check that the chicken is cooked through and the sweet potatoes are tender, then take out of the oven and leave with the lid on to stand for about 10 minutes. No notes here. Do these things.
- Ladle into bowls, sprinkling each with chopped cilantro. I served this with naan. You can make your own naan, but decent naan is becoming widely available at grocery stores. Conveniently, my naan reheated at 400 degrees so I just popped it into the oven after removing the chicken. Rice would also be good if you want to round out the meal, though it certainly stands well on its own.
Before trying Chicken Cosima, my children hated sweet potatoes. This did not change their minds. They did discover that they love chickpeas (actually G likes chickpeas, whereas H is partial to garbanzo beans). The chicken was a hit all around and it made enough for the 4 of us (with naan) and 4 single-serving containers of leftovers.