This dish is swoon-worthy. Trust me. Even reheated the next day for lunch I found myself audibly appreciating my meal: “Mmmmmmmm.” This may be the cook’s equivalent of talking to themselves — I mean, who else but I, alone in my kitchen, was going to acknowledge my enthusiastic praise for this particular recipe? But there I was, nodding my head and slowly closing my eyes in satisfaction. Yes, yes, we’ll be making this again, and soon.
It took me back to the Italian countryside I’ve never visited…or perhaps a Spanish tavern in which I have yet to set foot. But wherever it was my taste buds wandered, I was happy for the sojourn.
This dish is a good example of the maxim “ingredients that grow together, go together.” In this Mediterranean-inspired recipe, braised chicken thighs are nestled into a stew of earthy chickpeas, kale and cauliflower cooked down with lots of garlic in a silky tomato ragu. It can be served over Israeli couscous — as we had it the first time we made it — over rice, or eaten simply as a stew with a hunk of good-quality bread. If the chicken were removed from the bone, you could easily tuck some of it along with the chickpeas, kale and cauliflower into some pita bread or a whole wheat wrap for a fantastic lunch.
And, you won’t find a meal that packs in many more nutrients than this one. Just about every vegetable in this dish is a bona-fide superfood. When paired with a lean meat like chicken, the total sum of this dish is not only heart-healthy, but packed with cancer-fighting glucosinolates and antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. And yes, I had to look all that up, but certainly learned something in the process.
That our girls actually enjoyed this dish was the frosting on the cake, not that we had either frosting or cake with this meal (but maybe we should have, considering how conscientious we were with the main course!). There were some raised eyebrows over the kale, but since our daughters both like kale chips I convinced them to give it a try. They both like chickpeas too, and serving this over a pasta like couscous also encouraged them to eat their dinner. I used some home-canned whole tomatoes with basil which I put through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds, but you can use canned crushed tomatoes with equally good results.
This is a quick weeknight meal and takes under an hour to prepare, as if it could get any better. I’ve made this two ways: with the red pepper flakes and without. Our daughters do not care for the spice of the red pepper flakes but I find they give the finished dish a deeper, more rustic flavor. I definitely recommend including them unless you have finicky eaters in the house. Totally up to you.
If chicken isn’t your thing you could make this dish entirely without it and it would be just as good — turning it into a vegetarian AND vegan dish.
The net result: We’re making this again! I hope you’ll give it a try too. I’d love to hear how it worked for you, and whether it had you swooning as it did me.
Braised Chicken with Kale, Chickpeas, Cauliflower and Tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 – 8 chicken thighs (omit for a vegetarian meal)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bunch Lacinato (Dinosaur) or Curly kale, well washed, ribs removed and kale leaves cut into fine ribbons (it’s OK for water to be clinging to the leaves)
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 head of cauliflower, washed and cut into bite-size florets
Additional Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked Israeli couscous, cooked rice, or bread for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
While the oven is warming, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven on the stove top over medium-high heat. Lightly salt both sides of the chicken thighs with Kosher salt. When oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and cook for several minutes until the skin is golden brown. Turn the thighs over and brown the second side in the same way. Remove the thighs from the skillet and place them on a clean plate to rest.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic to the oil still in the pan. Sauté for 30 seconds to a minute — allow to soften, but do not brown the garlic. If using the red pepper flakes, add them as well. As soon as the garlic softens, add the kale and continue to sauté, allowing the kale to cook down while stirring frequently.
Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and cauliflower, seasoning with Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste, and stir again, coating all ingredients with the tomato sauce. Allow to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the cauliflower begins to soften slightly.
Turn off the flame and nestle the reserved chicken thighs and any accumulated juices on top of the kale/chickpea/cauliflower/tomato mixture, skin side up. Move the skillet to the oven, uncovered, and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Finish under the broiler for a few minutes (1 – 3 minutes) until the chicken skin is crispy, taking care that it doesn’t burn.
Remove the skillet from the oven, allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes, and serve individual portions over cooked Israeli couscous, cooked rice, or on its own with some rustic bread.
Serves: 4 – 6
Kid rating: three-and-a-half stars. I was very proud of both Daughter 1 and Daughter 2 for trying this dish, and even prouder that they both ate a reasonable portion of what was served to them. Daughter 2 loved the chicken. Daughter 1 is not a big meat eater but did finish most of her chickpeas and cauliflower. The Israeli couscous soaked up the rich tomato sauce, which both girls enjoyed.
Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. My husband was probably more in the four star range, but I LOVED this dish. As I mentioned, anything that causes me to pause mid-bite to close my eyes in rapture is a dish I’ll be making again. I also loved the versatility of this dish since leftovers were just as good the next day, sopped up with bread.