Moroccan harissa chicken and butternut squash served with a herby couscous, fresh tzatziki and warm bread are a healthy and comforting dinner altogether. If you omit the couscous it would also classify as a one skillet dinner! Easy and very flavorful.
This dish is good enough to be served as a date night meal, but also healthy and easy enough to be made every day of the week. Those are definitely my kind of healthy comfort meals. Other such dishes can be this healthy vegetarian pasta salad for summer or this halloumi quinoa salad, kofta meatballs or sheet pan chicken fajitas!
What is harissa?
Harissa is a hot pepper chilli paste from Tunisia, and also very common in Morocco, Northern Africa in general and the Middle East. It consists of chilli peppers, caraway seeds, cumin and coriander seeds and other spices and herbs. The flavor is so deep and complex, it's not just another chilli paste.
A little goes a long way when using harissa, as it is so spicy and pungent (at least my homemade version is!). You can mix it with water or a sauce for stews or use a little in marinades like we are doing here. It is very versatile if you like spicy food!
You can use store bought harissa or you can make your own like I did in this grilled harissa chicken salad.
What can I use instead of harissa?
If you don't have harissa, you can certainly make it like mentioned above. That is what I would recommend, however, if that's out of the question as well, you can try some of the things below:
- Other spicy chilli pastes like sambal oelek, Gochujang, Sriracha or even a little hot sauce (remember they won't taste the same, but you get spicy)
- If you don't want it spicy, you can use muhammara (bell pepper paste) or a little tomato purée or even sun-dried tomato pesto!
- You can also just omit the harissa with no substitutions altogether for a milder dish
Simple but herby couscous
There's no problem eating this dish as a one skillet dinner, however, I am a sucker for all things rice and grains and therefore I serve it with couscous. Couscous is actually crushed durum wheat semolina, so it's not a grain and technically more like pasta, but it works really well as a grain.
My preferred way to eat it is by combining cooked couscous with a bunch of fresh herbs and chickpeas for more texture. And cooking in chicken stock instead of water is a very easy way to get a lot more flavor!
Considering couscous is high in gluten, it is not a side perfect for everyone. If that is the case you can omit the couscous, or use bulgur, quinoa or even regular rice. Easy peasy!
I love to serve it with bread
In the photos I serve it with a whole wheat batbout, a version of the Moroccan pita bread. However, you can serve this dish with any kind of pita bread or naan, like classic garlic cilantro naan or even goat cheese and date naan. Whatever flatbread you have, you can use, or even dinner rolls.
It's still a lovely meal without bread if you can't take gluten or just cutting back on it. No problem at all, I'm just giving you my ideas here. That's the beauty of making dinners instead of baking a delicate cake - you can add or subtract to your own liking.
Bonus harissa halloumi
Because I didn't want to overwhelm the recipe, I added the harissa halloumi just as a side note in the recipe card. That does not mean that I don't recommend it! It is really easy and I love the texture and tangy flavor from the halloumi.
Just like in my halloumi quinoa salad, you need to pat the halloumi dry first. You should also make sure that everything else in this dish is ready and served before beginning to fry the halloumi, because it needs to be served ASAP. Halloumi gets a rubbery texture ridiculously fast, so I really do mean ASAP.
Once patted dry, smear olive oil, harissa paste and juice of ½ lime on top. Fry on high heat for a couple of minutes on each side.
How to make this one skillet dinner
Pre-heat the oven to 400F (200C). Mix together the ingredients for harissa marinade and then add the chicken breast to it. Let it marinade for at least 10-20 minutes, but an hour is even better.
Fry the chicken breast on high heat for a couple of minutes on each side to get a nice sear, without cooking through. Mix sauce ingredients together and add sauce and vegetables to a large baking dish, along with the half-cooked chicken.
Bake until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Add dates halfway through the bake time.
Meanwhile, cook the couscous and make a mint yogurt if desired (no longer one skillet dinner I suppose!). Just mix all the yogurt ingredients together, and keep it the fridge until ready to serve. Don't forget to heat up pita bread or naan too. Once everything is done, then you can make the halloumi if you want it. Enjoy!
Did you like this harissa chicken dish? Here's more spicy dishes I think you will like:
- Patatas Bravas Spanish Potatoes with a spicy tomato aïoli
- Sweet and Spicy Pork Stir Fry
- Beef Bulgogi (Spicy Korean BBQ)
- Middle Eastern Flatbread with Beef
- Orange Szechuan Beef and Carrots
- Orange Shawarma Chicken Naan
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