Chicken and Preserved Lemon Salad

This chicken and preserved lemon salad, made with broiled or grilled spiced chicken thighs, couscous, onion, fennel, preserved lemons, and green olives, is vibrant, fresh, and healthy.

A blue bowl filled with chicken and preserved lemon salad

This stellar chicken and preserved lemon salad reimagines traditional Moroccan tagine by packing all the zest and zing of the usual citrus, green olives, fennel, chickpeas, couscous and warmly spiced chicken thighs into a slightly less heavy yet no less compelling salad.–Jenny Howard

Chicken and Preserved Lemon Salad

  • Quick Glance
  • 40 M
  • 1 H, 50 M
  • Serves 4
4.5/5 - 2 reviews
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Ingredients

  • For the chicken
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • For the salad
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous* (see NOTE below)
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoon lemon juice, from 2 to 3 lemons, plus more to taste
  • 1 medium fennel bulb (8 oz), trimmed, cored, and very thinly sliced, feathery fronds chopped and reserved for garnish, if desired
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 store bought or homemade preserved lemon, pith discarded and zest finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
  • Small handful finely chopped mint, or less to taste
  • Generous handful finely chopped cilantro or parsley, or less to taste, plus a small handful whole leaves for garnish, if desired

Directions

  • Marinate the chicken
  • 1. Using the flat side of a large knife or a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic into a paste with a pinch salt. In a large bowl, combine the garlic paste, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, oil, and lemon juice and mix well. Add the chicken thighs and rub the spice paste all over, completely coating them. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
  • Make the salad
  • 2. Preheat the broiler on high** (see NOTE below). Arrange the marinated chicken thighs on a foil-lined broiler pan.
  • 3. While the broiler preheats, bring a small pan of water to a boil. Dump the couscous in a large bowl and add enough boiling water to cover it by about 1/4 inch (6 mm). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  • 4. In another small bowl, toss the red onion with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a small pinch salt. Let sit for a few minutes to mellow the sharpness of the raw onion. Then add the fennel and 1/2 tablespoon oil and toss.
  • 5. Gently fluff the couscous with a fork. Add the onion and fennel mixture, chickpeas, preserved lemon, olives, chopped mint, chopped cilantro or parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and toss well. Taste, adding more lemon juice or salt, if desired.
  • 6. Broil the chicken thighs until cooked through and golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes per side. When cool enough to handle, slice the chicken thighs into thin strips. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a pinch salt.
  • 7. To serve, if desired, turn the salad onto a large platter. Arrange the chicken on top and spoon over any juices from the broiler pan. Garnish with whole cilantro or parsley leaves and fennel fronds, if using. Serve immediately.

*NOTE: Gluten-Free & Grilled Variations

  • *For a gluten-free alternative, simply substitute quinoa for the couscous, cooking 1 cup quinoa according to package directions.

    **You can easily toss the chicken thighs on the grill rather than slide them under the broiler.

Recipe Testers Reviews

This is so good! It has those beautiful Moroccan flavors you expect from a tagine but a bit different, a little lighter, and it can be quickly put together.

A couple of notes. The longer you can marinate the chicken thighs, the better. I am not a cilantro fan so I simply substituted parsley. Next time, I would actually cut the chicken into strips (like chicken tenders) to help the marinade penetrate plus then you could easily cook them on the stove top. I used parsley instead of cilantro (unfortunately, I am one of those people who find cilantro to taste like soap). And I used about half the amount of mint as parsley.

This was a new-to-me method of cooking couscous and it worked perfectly! I used boiling water and it sat for 5 minutes. At that point, the water had been absorbed.

This salad brought together some of my favorite flavors together with a simple form that could be put together easily on that day or, with a little planning, started the night before. (After fresh Meyer lemons, a jar of preserved lemons is just about my favorite thing to keep on hand. I always have a batch ready to eat, and when I get close to the end, I start another batch.)

The salad was pronounced a winner by both of us.

The spicy marinade gives a nice flavor and finish to the skinless chicken thighs and I can imagine they would just as nicely cook up on a grill as under the broiler. The marinade paste takes 15 to 20 minutes the night before and then can be stashed in the fridge. My chicken marinated for 23 hours.

On the day, you can cook the couscous first, letting it sit covered while you prep the rest of the salad. While you can do it exactly as written (plan on about 1 1/4 cups boiling water), you also could bring that to a boil in a small saucepan and stir in the couscous and then cover and get the same result.

The recipe is designed to be easy, so while you can use canned chickpeas, it will work just as nicely with freshly cooked ones if you like (1 1/2 cups rinsed and drained is the equivalent of a 400g can). If you use home-cooked chickpeas, you might want to adjust the salt level or add a bit more preserved lemon to punch up a little brighter level of flavor in the salad.

My method for safely shaving fennel is to trim the bottom, then use the stalk to safely hold the bulb as you run it across a mandoline.

My only improvement for this recipe is that I would increase the amount of chicken. I made up a small amount of extra marinade and used it with tofu, which was also well received.

For gluten-sensitive guests, I would substitute quinoa for the couscous. I will definitely add this to my cook-for-friends repertoire. For a second meal, I included some of the fennel fronds, chopped with the cilantro and mint, for a nice result.

Assuming you have—or have access to—preserved lemons, this recipe comes together quickly and packs a lot of flavor. The spice blend and abundance of lemon from both the freshly squeezed lemons and preserved lemon add a nice note. The herbs used for finishing the couscous salad add a delicious freshness.

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Comments

  1. I made this last night and it was delicious. The flavors of the fennel, lemon, and olives really came together well. I made it with couscous but was thinking it might be nice with farro, too.

  2. I made it all veggie with aubergine instead of chicken. Just marinated it and put the aubergine in the oven (350°F/177°C) for 10 or 15 minutes let it cool down and mix it in the salad. It’s great!

  3. This looks so delicious! I’m making this tomorrow for Valentine’s Day dinner (partner is into the Mediterranean diet right now) and I’m wondering 1. What, if anything, can be prepped ahead (the chicken is already marinating in the fridge)? and 2. This seems a meal unto itself; that said, any thoughts on jazz-it-up accompaniments? Thanks!

    1. Beth, I love that you’re making this for Valentine’s! It truly is a special and spectacular salad. You could, of course, do all the chopping for the salad ahead of time. I personally like the contrast of temperatures in a salad so I would make the couscous at the last moment so it’s still a little warm although you could make it a little ahead of time and let it rest at room temperature. It can get a touch gummy if made ahead of time so I would probably leave that until the last moment. But you could have everything measured and set up ready to assemble, which will save several minutes.

      As for a Mediterranean diet-friendly way to snazz it up, first, I would look to the ingredients in this salad. I would splurge on gorgeous Picholine olives that are almost sweet. Also, I would add almonds to the salad or I would set them out as an appetizer beforehand, preferably those pricey yet ridiculously lovely Marcona almonds. I’m a simple person when it comes to weeknight meals, and it sounds like you’re pressed for time, so if perhaps if you’re setting almonds out ahead of time to have with something to sip (Champagne?!), I would set out more olives. Maybe some that you’ve fancied up with herbs? And goat cheese would be really nice. Or perhaps this Baked Ricotta. If you wanted to set out some crudite as well, in keeping with the vegetable theme of the Mediterranean diet, I would go for less familiar items like more fennel as well as daikon radish and maybe cauliflower or cucumber spears or even different colored carrots (or pale yellow or white carrots if you have those available to go with the pale white hue of the other items, which is sorta winter white and elegant). For dessert, I guess you could do a cheese plate there if you did crudites first, perhaps with a drizzle of honey and some dates or dried figs or other dried fruits. Again, trying to keep things modest in terms of the diet and also in terms of effort at the last moment. I hope this helps!

      1. Renee, these are wonderful ideas, and I so appreciate all of the thought you put into your reply! Definitely marconas and champagne beforehand, perfect and easy. Your mention of goat cheese has inspired cheese- and toasted walnut-stuffed dates for dessert (And Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Snacklette cookies from Dorie’s Cookies, which are rave favorites around our house, highly recommended!) A scattering of pomegranate arils on your salad for Valentine color, and we’ll be set. Thank you again!

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