FOOD COLUMN: Harissa Chicken with Butternut Couscous

Winner winner chicken dinner

butternut squash Cambridge University chicken chicken dinner cooking couscous food column harissa now i'm hungry student meals yum

We have reached that point in term when exams are looming, revision is an inevitable evil and the sunny skies make the entire process even more loathsome. It is, therefore, fitting that this is the week I gift to you my favourite foodie obsession to brighten your culinary horizons. Without further ado, I present to you: Harissa.

The fiery Tunisian paste is gorgeously orange-red in colour – its brilliant hue alone is reason enough to incorporate the ingredient into your cooking – and is made up of roasted red papers, dried red chillies, garlic, caraway, cumin and coriander, tomato puree, salt and olive oil. Trust me when I tell you that anything that involves harissa is pure, unadorned pleasure. Recent research has even claimed it is the latest superfood. Well, I need no further persuasion – and nor should you.

My Harissa Chicken uses Harissa alone to marinade the meat. Its beauty lies in its ability to impart its glorious flavours in mere minutes without needing to marinade overnight or for hours in advance. A true gem for a last-minute cook. It serves as the perfect accompaniment to my Butternut Couscous, which is so easy and flavoursome. Together they go from fridge to fork in less than twenty minutes, and can be eaten there and then, or packed into a lunchbox for the next day.

Think of this recipe as a base from which you can indulge your foodie desires. Feel free to swap the chicken for salmon or turkey. You can add a spoon of yoghurt to the marinade if you prefer it slightly cooler. Substitute butternut squash for sweet potato. Whilst this duo alone is pretty much perfection, you can raise the bar further by serving with minted yoghurt or hummus, warm pitta bread and/or a green salad. It’s also pretty great with a glass of cold white wine.

By way of warning, jars of Harissa can vary enormously in strength. Try a rose Harissa if you want to ease yourself in without too much heat to start.


Serves 2 (with leftover couscous)


For the chicken: 2 chicken breasts (cut into strips), 2 teaspoons of harissa.

For the couscous: ½ butternut squash (peeled, seeded, diced into 1cm cubes); 3 tbsp olive oil; salt; onion; garlic clove; 125g couscous; 250ml water; chicken stock cube; tablespoon of honey; tsp of ground cinnamon; juice & zest of half a lemon (use other half to garnish); handful of raisins; handful of toasted nuts (e.g. pine nuts/almonds); fresh parsley/mint


  1. Marinade your chicken in the harissa.
  2. Heat the oven to 220 degrees. Toss the butternut squash in the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 15 minutes or until tender. Reduce your oven to 190 degrees.
  3. Toast your nuts then leave them to cool before chopping.
  4. Put your harissa chicken onto a baking tray and into the oven for 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
  5. Chop your onion and garlic. Add a tbsp. of olive oil to a pan and soften the onion and garlic mix until golden (about 10 minutes).
  6. Stir the chicken stock cube and honey into the boiling water then pour it over the couscous and tightly cover. Leave until the couscous has absorbed all the liquid (5 minutes or so), then add a glug of olive oil and fluff it up with a fork. Add the squash, onion mix, cinnamon, lemon juice and zest, raisins, and nuts. Season with salt and mix it all together.
  7. Once the chicken is cooked, you are ready to plate it up with the couscous. Grind some pepper over the top and scatter parsley/mint if you’re feeling fancy. Serve with the two remaining lemon wedges. Tuck in!