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Eric Akis: A Middle Eastern-style dinner for two

In this recipe from Chef Eric Akis, chicken breasts marinated Middle Eastern-style are grilled and served with tangy yogurt and a tabbouleh-style couscous salad.
Marinated chicken breast is grilled and served with couscous salad and thick yogurt. ERIC AKIS

Some of the recipes I present in my column start with me seeing what ingredients I already have on hand and that was the case with this one.

The other day, when looking in my pantry, I noticed I had a partial box of couscous, some olive oil and a range of spices. On my kitchen counter were a couple of ripe tomatoes, and in my refrigerator, I found yogurt, lemons, parsley and a cucumber.

All I needed was some chicken and I could make a tasty Middle Eastern-style dinner for two.

The process started with marinating two boneless, skinless chicken breasts in an olive oil/lemon juice mixture flavoured with spices and oregano. While the chicken marinated, I made a “tabbouleh-style” couscous salad, where couscous replaced the bulgur most often used to make tabbouleh.

Couscous comes in a few forms, but what you most frequently see for sale in Canadian supermarkets is sometimes referred to as “instant” couscous, although that won’t be noted on the packaging. It is a quick-cooking grain product made by moistening and forming semolina into fine granules, steaming them, and then drying them. To prepare it, all you need to do is soak the couscous in just-boiled water for five minutes.

After I prepared and cooled my couscous, I tossed it with ingredients one would add to tabbouleh, including chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, parsley and a mix of seasonings.

When the chicken was done marinating, I stepped outside and grilled it on my barbecue, giving it a rich, lightly charred look and pleasing, smoky taste. If you don’t have a barbecue, you could use an indoor grill to cook the chicken. And, if you don’t have one of those, in the options part of the recipe I provide information on how you could roast the chicken instead.

Once cooked, I plated and served the chicken with the couscous salad and a nice dollop of thick, plain yogurt; a tangy dairy product that complemented the taste of the chicken and the couscous. I used Tree Island brand yogurt, a gourmet, splendid, cream-top-style of yogurt made on Vancouver Island. For more information about this yogurt and to locate stores selling it, go to

Marinated Grilled Chicken with Couscous Salad and Thick Yogurt

Chicken breasts marinated Middle Eastern-style, with olive oil, lemon juice and spices are grilled and served with tangy yogurt and a tabbouleh-style couscous salad. You could also serve the chicken with a green vegetable, such as steamed asparagus or broccolini.

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: eight minutes

Makes: two servings

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil, plus some for the grill

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp smoked paprika or regular paprika

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp garlic powder, or 1 medium garlic clove, minced

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• thick plain yogurt, to taste

• couscous salad (see recipe below)

• lemon slices and parsley sprigs, for garnish

Combine 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, garlic and cayenne pepper in eight-inch square or similar sized dish. Add the chicken breasts and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate chicken four to eight hours.

Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high (see Eric’s options). Oil the bars of the grill. Set chicken on the grill and cook about four minutes per side, until cooked through.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest a couple of minutes. Slice each chicken breast, widthwise, and then set one sliced breast on each of two dinner plates. Dollop some yogurt, and spoon on some of the couscous salad alongside the chicken and serve.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you could set the chicken on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast it in 375 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked. The chicken won’t have the rich sear grilling gives it, but it will still be flavourful.

“Tabbouleh-style” Couscous Salad

This nicely spiced couscous salad, rich with tomatoes, cucumber and parsley, is made like tabbouleh. But instead of using bulgur, you use cooked, cooled couscous. The recipe yields one more serving than the chicken recipe above, but the leftovers could be enjoyed the next day.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: five minutes

Makes: three servings

1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp water

2 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup couscous (see Note)

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp smoked or regular paprika

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder, or 1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 medium, ripe on-the-vine tomato, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place water, 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small pot, set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, cover, turn off the heat, and let stand five minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, spread out on a plate, and let cool to room temperature.

Combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, zest, juice, cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne and garlic in a medium bowl. Add couscous, tomato, cucumber and parsley, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate the couscous salad until ready to serve. It can be made many hours in advance.

Note: I used Casbah brand couscous when testing this recipe. It is sold at most supermarkets.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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