A trip to Morocco transformed how I use spices. Until that week of feasting on North African dishes, I never imagined food could have so much flavor. Cinnamon and paprika, spices I thought I knew well, were used generously and combined in so many enticing ways.

The first lesson I learned in Morocco was the difference between spicy and hot. Today we favor dishes fired with chiles and other hot peppers and for some people, the hotter the better. Moroccans use harissa, a red pepper paste that is pure heat, as a table condiment, rarely adding it to prepared dishes.

Other spices, however, particularly ground cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric and ginger, they cook with by the teaspoon. Cinnamon is also used generously in savory dishes, which was a new concept to me.

This repertoire of spices, used in varying combinations, turns tagines (the moist Moroccan stews made in a special clay pot), couscous dishes and even simple salads like grated carrots with raisins into tapestries of bold flavor that fill your mouth with intense flavor and not a hint of heat.

With reports of scientific studies exploring potential health benefits of spices, people often ask me for ways to use them liberally and often. Ethnic dishes are the easiest way. From Indian curries and Thai stir-fries to Mexican mole, you can find recipes calling for spices used by the teaspoon, and usually several of them in a dish.

Since these dishes can take time to prepare and may call for ingredients not at hand, I also think constantly about ways to use spices liberally while keeping preparation simple and the ingredients easy.

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Baked Moroccan Chicken

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Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 4 (6 oz.) skinless chicken breast halves, with rib

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat baking dish just slightly larger than chicken breasts with cooking spray.
  2. In small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, juice, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, salt, pepper and honey until honey dissolves.
  3. Place chicken in prepared baking dish, rib-side down. Spoon spice mixture over chicken taking care to coat completely.
  4. Bake chicken for 10 minutes. Remove chicken from oven. Tipping pan, use spoon to baste chicken with liquid for 1 minute. Bake 10 minutes, and baste chicken again. Repeat baking and basting one more time. Bake chicken until white in center when cut into at thickest point or meat thermometer shows internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Total baking time will be about 35 minutes, depending on size of chicken. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Place chicken on deep serving plate. Spoon liquid from pan over chicken. Good accompaniments are string beans and mashed sweet potatoes.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
200 calories
1.5 g total fat
0 g saturated fat
14 g carbohydrate
31 g protein
0 g dietary fiber
380 mg sodium