North African Chicken Soup

This North African chicken soup is made with chicken stock, ras el hanout, couscous, and preserved lemon. It’s an easy and inexpensive soup that is just as satisfying at dinner as it is at your desk for lunch the next day.

Plastic container or North African chicken soup with shredded chicken, ras el hanout, couscous, and preserved lemon

Lord knows we could use a little something serene in the middle of our workday. And we suspect you could, too. This insanely soothing, incredibly satiating, and serenely aromatic North African chicken soup has us wishing we always had a stash of it in the fridge to warm us up on cold winter nights and calm us down at our desks at work. It’s also an easy and inexpensive chicken soup to toss together and it keeps incredibly well. Originally published January 11, 2015. Renee Schettler Rossi

North African Chicken Soup

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 35 M
  • Serves 2 to 4
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Ingredients

  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (3/4 to 1 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ras el hanout (found in the spice section of most supermarkets)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 14-ounce can (400 grams) chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 2/3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • Pinch granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces) uncooked couscous (or substitute quinoa for a gluten-free alternative)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 ounces shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 preserved lemons, rinsed, pulp discarded, and peel finely chopped (optional)

Directions

  • 1. Heat a splash of oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
  • 2. Increase the heat to medium and add the ras el hanout and chili flakes. Stir briefly, then add the tomatoes (including the liquid), stock, and a pinch sugar. Simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.
  • 3. Meanwhile, prepare the couscous according to the package instructions.
  • 4. If serving the soup right away, stir the cooked couscous and shredded chicken into the soup and warm through. Add the chopped lemon, if using, just before serving.

    If stashing the chicken soup in the fridge to take to work the next day, store the couscous and preserved lemon separately from the soup, then mix everything together before reheating. If you want your soup to thicken somewhat and take on a pronounced lemony tang, then combine it all before you toss it in the work fridge—and hope it doesn’t get pinched by the office lunch thief.

Beef and Lamb Variations

  • In truth, you could make this North African chicken soup recipe with any meat and stock. If swapping lamb or beef for the chicken in this recipe, the soup will benefit from a longer, gentler cooking time.

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Recipe Testers Reviews

Wow! I love, love, love this easy North African chicken soup recipe and its complex flavors that come together in a very short time. I made a couple of little swaps to the recipe, but you can go straight for efficient and still be super pleased with yourself. I roasted chicken thighs per the Tuscan-Style Sautéed Chicken recipe, using oregano in place of rosemary. I used some of the moist, fragrant chicken for this recipe and saved the remainder for another meal. I also skimmed the fat from the cooking juices and used them to enrich a vegetable broth I already had started, though really, it would work just fine to use a rotisserie chicken and store-bought broth if you're pressed for time on a weeknight. 
I used 2 shallots in place of the onion, Aleppo pepper instead of chili flakes, and one of my own large preserved lemons, and I felt that the seasoning was perfect. (Note to self: Time to start another batch of preserved lemons.) 

I used rinsed quinoa (the same amount as the couscous) because I prefer the mouthfeel of quinoa. One thing I might do the next time I make this recipe is to chop my tinned tomatoes a bit before adding them if the pieces look a little large, but really there isn’t anything I would change, except to make this more often. This recipe is a great one for the chicken soup arsenal, with just the right amount of tang and heat. It generously serves two for lunch or even dinner but easily could be a first course in smaller servings. You also could extend it on the fly by adding more chicken or more stock, depending on what you have on hand.

I liked reading this North African chicken soup recipe so much that I couldn't bring myself to make it for 2 servings. I doubled the recipe, in exactly the same proportions, and it made enough for at least 6, maybe 8 servings. The whole process of prepping and cooking took less than an hour. I had some soup right way and enjoyed every bit of it. This soup is a sinus clearer. Needless to say, my husband stayed far away and I could find only one other person who would share. I’m not a couscous fan, but this soup needed that. And the preserved lemon was a perfect crunchy tidbit. As for tasting better the next day, the couscous had soaked up most of the liquid—it was very soft but not unpleasant. I also thinned the soup down with more chicken broth the second day, and it was still quite spicy but with a much more pronounced lemon flavor—too lemony. Maybe adding it at the last minute is the answer?

This is the type of recipe we appreciate making for weeknight meals—ingredients on hand, everything comes together in less than a half an hour, and the result is much greater than the sum of its parts. We doubled the North African chicken soup recipe, using good-quality, store-bought stock. The spices are balanced, the soup is hearty, and we certainly will make this again, next time with the preserved lemon (which we could not easily find the first time we made it, but have since located it in a Middle Eastern grocery store). Also, the next time we make this recipe, we will add add a big handful of greens.

This North African chicken soup recipe delivers on all counts—flavor, texture, and nutrition. It was so easy to make and certainly is a meal in itself. I couldn't find ras el hanout in my little town here. So I used this Moroccan spice rub recipe and I actually ended up making a Moroccan roast chicken with the same rub. I used some white meat to make the soup and also threw the spice mixture into the soup. I made a slow-cooker chicken stock https://leitesculinaria.com/84088/recipes-slow-cooker-chicken-stock.html. I found that I could reduce the amount of quinoa—perhaps 3 tablespoons would be adequate. I kept the leftovers for lunch the next day, and the flavors certainly deepened, however the soup was more like a stew as the quinoa had absorbed most of the liquid overnight. I served it with a nice salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions in a lemon and cumin vinaigrette.

I loved this North African chicken soup recipe. There was a very gentle amount of heat from the chiles, not enough to call the recipe hot by any means, but just enough for a pleasant warmth. I had to make a few modifications to the recipe to accommodate my dietary needs and the ingredients I had on hand. The ras el hanout, an insanely complex and and delicious blend of spices, is the real star. I only looked in one supermarket and couldn't find the blend, so I dug into my cookbooks and made my own. (I used the recipe in Mourad). The soup had a wonderful flavor that was hard to pin down. The amount of chicken in the recipe is pretty small, so I added a bit more than called for. I used chicken thighs instead of breast meat because I already had them on hand. Because I have to eat gluten-free, couscous is out of the question, so I used cooked millet instead, which I find makes a nice substitute. We had enough to serve 2 with leftovers for lunch the next day. The flavor was even better the next day—the seasoning seemed to come through quite a bit more. The millet had continued to swell and thickened the whole soup. What I would do next time is add the millet to each individual serving in the bowl, and, for the leftovers, store the millet and the soup separately.

This North African chicken soup recipe is simple, flavorful, and really easy to prepare. Best of all, it stretches out a bit of leftover cooked chicken into a meal. The chili flakes add a nice heat, and the couscous thickens things into just the sort of consistency you'd expect in a go-to autumn soup. The preserved lemon, while optional, is necessary, in my opinion. The one thing that would elevate this soup recipe? Parsley. Or cilantro, if you're into that. Something fresh, green, and herbal would really set the whole thing off.

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