Spice of Life: Morocco

We’re rounding out National Nutrition Month and end our journey in Morocco. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Mediterranean Sea on the east, Morocco’s cuisine draws from three different cultures – Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. What makes Moroccan cuisine so worldly though is its use of spices – which incidentally, they’ve been using for for thousands of years. While full of spices, Moroccan cuisine isn’t necessarily spicy. A special blend of Moroccan spices, called “Ras El Hanout,” is commonly used in cooking. This complex spice blend that can include anywhere from 20 to more than 30 spice ingredients — some sweet and some spicy — including cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, various peppers, and turmeric. Ras El Hanout‘s literal translation from Arabic is “head of the shop,” implying that it’s “the best (or top) of the shop,” as a result, the secret of the blend may vary from home to home and spice stall to spice stall.

Two spices consistently making the cut in Ras El Hanout blends also packs some punch when it comes to your health.

Cinnamon
“Cinnamon has been used to improve general health and treat a variety of diseases, including diabetes,” says Kelly Bright, Brookwood Baptist Medical Center dietician. A 2012 study surmised that cinnamon was effective in lowering blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Some studies have shown cinnamon may also help with digestion, blood clotting and lowering cholesterol.

Ginger
It’s no secret that newly pregnant moms-to-be often experience morning sickness (or all day sickness, for that matter). In fact, nausea affects 85% of pregnant women. While prescription medication may be prescribed by your doctor for severe cases, many women find that ginger and foods made with ginger have a surprising ability to curb the wooziness. Try ginger lozenges (available at health food stores), ginger ale (caffeine free), or ginger tea. As always, consult your doctor before beginning any new treatment regimens.

So what do they make with all these spices? A much-loved Moroccan dish is Chicken Tagine. Tagines are slow-cooked savory stews made with sliced meat, poultry, or fish together with vegetables or fruit, plus plenty of spices including ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and saffron. Tagines are typically served with couscous or bread, (we used couscous below). The name “tagine” comes from the cone-shaped lid of the tagine pot, which traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot – much like a modern-day crockpot. Like curries or stews, this dish is even better the second day.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Vegetable Couscous & Almonds
Serves 4

½ tsp salt
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp blanched slivered almonds
12 oz. uncooked chicken breast tenders (unbreaded)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ finely chopped red onion
¼ cup diced fresh carrots
8 oz fresh zucchini squash, diced
1 peeled fresh garlic clove
1 ½ tsp low sodium chicken base dissolved in 1 ½ cup boiling water
4 oz fresh chopped tomatoes
1 cup whole wheat couscous
½ cup drained, rinsed, canned garbanzo beans
2 tbsp lemon juice

In a bowl combine salt, Cayenne pepper, ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Toss chicken tenders with half of spice mixture. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil and cook chicken for 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken and keep warm. If desired, shred or dice chicken. Sauté the onion with remaining spice mixture, carrots, zucchini and garlic for 5 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Turn off the heat, add the tomato, couscous, garbanzo beans, and lemon juice and stir to combine. Return chicken to skillet, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous, sprinkle with almonds, and serve warm.

by Laura Brooks Bright

comments powered by Disqus