Every once in a while, a dish comes along that totally blows you out of the water. You may have low expectations, or no expectations, or haven’t had time to think through all the possibilities. Maybe you just thought, hey, I can make that! I have all the ingredients! Or maybe you thought, middle eastern food in under 30 minutes – Rachel Ray would be so proud!
While that particular brand of approval isn’t something I exactly aspire toward, having this exotic and easy one-pan-wonder ready in thirty minutes was pretty spectacular. The recipe that was the inspiration for this dish sounded pretty good, but it wasn’t until this sucker was roasting up in my tiny little oven that I knew it would be pretty damn great. Something about the mouth-watering aromas, I guess. AND, as per my latest habit of cooking 99% of my dinners with common ingredients that I already have on hand, this meal from a faraway land may not even require a trip to your faraway grocer!
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, pop up pretty often in Middle Eastern cooking, which is not surprising considering these little peach guys originated there over 7,500 years ago. Whether it’s Channa Masala from Delhi or Halua from Bangladesh, chickpeas are an essential ingredient to many of this region’s most traditional dishes. But look around your everyday American life, and you might be surprised at how rampant these Indian Peas run. Ever had hummus? How about falafel? Believe it or not, the smooth, rich consistency of both fairly Americanized foods has that cute, crumbly chickpea to at its core.
Now something that should make anyone who’s a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine pretty happy – chickpeas are not only delicious and packed with healthy fiber and protein, but they’re one of the cheapest things you can find in your grocery store, with a can costing just over a buck.
I located a can of Trader Joe’s garbanzo beans in the back corner of a kitchen cabinet last week, dusted the pretzel crumbs and Belgian chocolate dust off of it, and smiled. It’s a rare treat to find a single can of goodness in your pantry that can become the heart and soul of a dish, but this did just that. Armed only with my can opener, some defrosted chicken breasts, and a Pyrex baking dish, I was able to prepare a wonderfully savory, spicy, smoky and satisfying dinner that proved to be a great way (and possibly the only way) to make my boyfriend extremely happy to be home from a Vegas vacation! If hearing a whole lot of “this is so delicious!” and “this is one of the best things you’ve ever made!” after a week-long diet of Las Vegas fine dining doesn’t shout success, I don’t know what does.
Moral of the story? You have literally zero reasons NOT to make this. If you live alone, and are cooking for one, guess what? This dish is unreal heated up the next day, and even better stuffed in a pita pocket with some fresh greens and a drizzle of the yogurt sauce of the top, or on a bed of jasmine rice, or just by its plain old self, as I had it (I stole the leftovers for myself- some things are just to good to share). On a diet? Great! This dish has lean chicken breast meat, tomatoes, and chickpeas, and gets its flavor from smoky spices, not lots of butter and grease, making it high in protein and fiber, low in fat, and extra happy. Don’t have the smoked paprika? Do your self a favor, and take a few bucks to invest – chances are you’ll fall so in love with this spice, you’ll wind up using it – and enjoying a variety of new dishes – more often than you could have imagined!
Great, so now that you believe me, here’s how you make it:
Roast Chicken with Chickpeas and Smoked Paprika – Serves 4
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (you can get away with less if you’re really trying to watch calories)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 lb (16 oz) of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I recommend using thin sliced breasts for increased tenderness)
- 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
- 1.5 cups of fresh tomatoes, chopped (recommend using dark red heirloom varieties, or cherry tomatoes for added acidity)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
To start, clear out all those pots and pans you’ve been storing in your oven and preheat it to 450°.
In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of the spiced oil to a small bowl with the greek yogurt, and whisk to combine and set aside for sauce. Note that spices can be added directly to the yogurt for a lighter sauce.
Lightly spray your Pyrex or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, and lay chicken flat. Season well with sea salt and a little bit of fresh cracked pepper, then drizzle 2 tablespoons spiced oil mixture over chicken and rub into the chicken well. Add beans, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cilantro to remaining spiced oil mixture and toss to coat. At this point, taste the bean mixture – I thought it was seriously lacking in salt (I like to season my chicken in addition to this to make sure both are adequately seasoned), so I added a little sea salt and pepper to this as well. Then, pour the bean mixture around chicken.
If time allows, it’s pretty nice if you can cover this up with some plastic wrap and let it hang out in the fridge for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Even that little bit of marination time allows the flavors to really permeate the meat and enhance your dish.
Roast until chicken is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cilantro. Transfer chicken to plates. Spoon bean mixture and extra juices over the chicken. Serve with yogurt sauce and warm naan bread.