Bittman Omission.

It was my first impulse upon the return home from my trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica: pull out Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes of the World and try to make some of my favorite foods from the trip. I love the book; that’s no secret. So when I flipped to its last pages to search for Central America, I was disappointed to find nothing. Mexico? Check. South America? Check. Caribbean? Check. But nothing in the middle. No gallo pinto, no casado. No sign that Mr. Bittman, with his knowledge of (it’s in the book title) the best recipes in the world, considers the fare of Nicaragua, Costa Rica or their six neighboring countries to be worthy of his book.

Disappointed, yet still hungry, I followed the natural progression of logic and decided to make a Moroccan dish featuring chicken thighs and chickpeas.

The book called the dish “deceptively easy.” I would label the recipe forthright. There’s nothing tricky about the one-pot concoction containing chicken, zucchini, chickpeas, tomatoes and stock adorned with the seasonal quartet of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne. Season and sear the chicken, add the vegetables and stock and cook for twenty minutes. Bam. The rich stew-like dish is accented with lemon juice that brings it all an edge.

Two tips from the learned. (Perhaps this is the deceptive part?) Don’t overcook, or the zucchini will become a roux. And read the intro paragraph. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized the dish was to be served with rice or couscous. I quickly substituted the ever-popular quinoa without consequence.

Chicken Thighs with Chickpeas
from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman

8 chicken thighs, about 2 pounds
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 cup drained canned chickpeas
1 cup peeled and seeded tomatoes (canned are fine)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Remove the skin from the chicken. Combine the salt, pepper, cumin cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne and rub this mixture all over the meat.

Put the oil in a deep skillet or flameproof casserole, preferably nonstick, with a lid. Turn the heat to a medium-high and wait a minute or so, until the oil is hot. Add the chicken, smooth side down, and brown it lightly, rotating and turning the pieces as necessary, about 10 minutes.

Add the zucchini. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes; do not let the mixture dry out completely.

Add the stock and bring to a boil; turn down the heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the thighs are tender and cooked through. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper; taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish and serve.

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