chicken and aubergine tray bake with cauliflower rice “tabouleh”

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I made a terrible mistake in the preparation of this dish in that I purchased chicken breasts for protein. It’s not so much that I dislike chicken breast as I prefer pretty much every other cut of chicken to it. Generally when I’m meal prepping (as I did with this dish) with chicken, I will use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for ease, but a bonier cut such as a whole butterflied chicken or even just legs or drumsticks would work well and add more flavour. Chicken breast is fine, darker meat is delicious.

I suppose this recipe may end up looking a bit involved for something I actually intended to just have lying around for leftover dinner prior to leaving for night shift. It is highly likely that if I’d read it in a magazine I would have 100% skipped past it because it calls for more than one cooking vessel. However, once the bake is in the oven, there is very little to do for the cauliflower to make it the perfect little salad to balance out the meal. This is unsurprisingly one of those meals that gets better the longer you leave it, and so it was utterly marvellous to prepare for low effort dinners. I’d call it versatile enough to even serve to guests (especially as it can be prepared well in advance), but I think that’s just because it tastes really good. The bake itself is incredibly flavoursome. Beyond simply serving it alongside this fresh, citrus based salad, I would suggest a yoghurt-based accompaniment.

Some of the ingredients (preserved lemons, za’atar, pomegranate molasses) are not exactly typical kitchen staples, but I promise that they all hang about long enough for you to experiment and experience their deliciousness in other dishes also.
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Ingredients:

    Chicken bake:

    • ~500-600g free range chicken thighs (or chicken cut of your choice, preferably free range)
    • Knob of butter
    • 2 large eggplants
    • 1 1/2 cups white wine
    • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
    • 1 tbsp each of ground cumin, fennel and za’atar
    • 1 cup kalamata olives
    • 4 segments of preserved lemon
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Extra virgin olive oil

    Cauliflower rice tabouleh:

    • 1/2 head cauliflower
    • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
    • 1 handful fresh mint, coriander and parsley (I used what I had on hand in the garden)
    • Juice of one lemon
    • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • Salt and pepper

    Directions:

    1. Rice the cauliflower, either in a food processor or by hand with a grater. Place in a salad bowl and stir through the onion and fresh mint before dressing with the olive oil and lemon then seasoning with the salt and pepper to taste.
    2. This is best served at room temperature, having been left to rest for at least half an hour to the cauliflower has had a chance to soften and absorb the simple flavours of the herbs and lemon juice. Set aside in a covered container while preparing the chicken.
    3. Preheat oven to 350F/180C bake.
    4. In a large saucepan, brown the chicken thighs in butter and place in an oven-proof roasting dish.
    5. Deglaze the pan with the wine, stir through the pomegranate molasses and spices. Reduce the sauce until it is about half of the original volume.
    6. Slice the eggplants in half and brush with olive oil. On a barbecue or griddle pan over high heat, grill them on each side until chargrilled and softened. Cut into rough pieces and arrange around the chicken.
    7. Scatter over the kalamata olives and segments of preserved lemon, which are better to be further divided in half. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little more oil and then top with the reduced sauce.
    8. Cover the bake with tinfoil and cook for 30-40 minutes. Serve immediately with the cauliflower rice or leave to cool before storing in the fridge.
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