Chicken, chard, and cranberry bean stew

When life hands you lemons, make preserved lemons. And then put some in this stew.

This came about as a happy accident. I found a very old bag of cranberry beans in my cupboard, and was feeling in the mood for a one-pot meal. I had my trusty jar of preserved lemons, and a strong craving for something with greens. We’d gone to a local meat market and deli earlier in the day for lunch, and they had a terrific price on chicken legs. And so dinner took shape: a bubbling braise of beans, chicken, and chard, flavored like a classic north African tagine.

The result was a little more brothy than a tagine, and so I’m calling it a stew. But whatever you call it, it’s a wonderful winter meal: warm and soothing, rich with spices and starch. The preserved lemon adds a pop of brightness and a salty depth, and the beans thickened the broth to a lightly saucy consistency. As Audrey said, it felt like the perfect meal to eat if you were feeling under the weather; it tasted like it could cure a lot of ills.

Another reason I love this meal is because it uses meat as a flavoring, rather than the main attraction. For six people, I could have easily bought three pounds of meat; but I decided to go with just a pound of bone-in, skin-on legs, and stretch them a bit. I browned the pieces in oil, then simmered them in the pot along with the beans; then, when the flesh was lush and tender, I pulled the chicken from the pan and shredded the meat to be stirred in at the end. The bones and browned skin contributed flavor to the braising liquid, as if it were a stock; the meat provided little pockets of chew in between the creamy beans and slippery greens.

I said this was a one-pot meal, and it easily could be. But there’s a fair amount of rich liquid involved, and for my money you really need something to soak it up. I made a quick whole-wheat flatbread to dunk in the bowls, which was a real treat. But I could also imagine putting a heap of warm couscous in the bottom of each bowl and ladling the stew over that. Either way, you’ll be looking at dreamy faces and full bellies by the time this meal’s over.

chicken chard preserved lemon stew flatbread

Chicken, Chard, and Cranberry Bean Stew (serves 6-8)

1 lb dried cranberry beans or white beans

Cold water for soaking the beans

1 1/2 tbsp salt, plus more to taste

1 bunch (about 3/4 lb) red chard, thoroughly washed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tbsp minced or finely grated fresh ginger

5 cups water, plus more as needed

2 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks

1 bay leaf

2 tsp paprika

Pinch of crushed red chile flakes, or to taste

1 preserved lemon, rinsed and minced

Bread or couscous for serving (optional)

Place the beans in a large bowl, and pour over about 2 quarts water, or enough to cover by at least 2 inches. Add salt and stir until dissolved. Let the beans soak for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours (or overnight). Once the beans have soaked, drain and rinse them thoroughly, and set aside.

Cut the chard leaves away from the stems; roughly chop the leaves, and thinly slice the stems. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken lightly on both sides with salt and pepper, then add to the pot and brown thoroughly on both sides. Transfer the partially cooked chicken to a plate and set aside.

Reduce the heat under the pot to medium. Add onions and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add garlic and ginger and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until fragrant. Add 5 cups water, cinnamon sticks, bay leaf, paprika, and chile flakes, and stir to combine. Add beans, reserved chicken pieces, and any juices that have accumulated on the chicken plate.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a steady simmer. Cover partway with a lid and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender but still slightly firm and the chicken is almost falling off the bone. Remove the chicken from the pot, transfer to a plate, and set it aside.

Add chard and preserved lemon to the pot, and stir until the chard wilts. Simmer, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and the chard and beans are tender. If the stew seems to be getting dry before the beans are done, add a splash of water. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and bay leaf.

Pull or cut the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces; discard bones and skin. Return the chicken meat to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Stir until the meat is heated through. Taste and adjust the salt as needed–you probably won’t need much, since the preserved lemon is plenty salty.

Ladle the stew into bowls, and serve warm with bread or couscous (if desired). Leftovers will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for 4-6 months.

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