The big fascination at our house these days are maps and atlases and anything that depicts other parts of the country and other parts of the world. We have a children’s atlas that the Man found for $1 at a used bookstore several months ago.
It sat on the shelf for a while, getting passed over for various books by Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle. Until one day when Ben decided he wanted to take a look. That was probably at least a month ago. And the atlas has been elevated from shelf status to coffee-table book, never far from reach.
As he perused the various pages he quickly picked up on the Nordic countries. He knows his Grampa is from Sweden, so he wanted to see where that was. He also likes to point out England, where his Grandmum lives. And the kid has, for a 3-year-old, an almost abnormal fascination for learning the names for all of the states in the U.S.
This is all fairly understandable, I suppose.
But I am not quite sure where the fascination with Egypt came from. He loves to talk about the pyramids and the Great Sphinx so much that he asked us if he could go to Egypt. We compromised and told him we would take him out for Egyptian food.
But before we could make that happen, his attention turned to another African nation: Morocco. As with Egypt, he asked if he could go to Morocco.
I told him that we could not do that, but that I would figure out something to cook that would use some of the spices and flavors from Morocco. And that he could help me pick the spices he wanted to use. It seemed like a fun way to go about things and get him involved.
So I lined up a selection of small spice jars with some idea of the ones I wanted to use. But before making the final decision, we opened each jar and took a nice whiff of each one.
Ginger was in, turmeric was out. Cumin made the cut, paprika did not. Cinnamon was deemed acceptable, cardamom was “too smelly.”
Once we had picked out our spices, it was time to settle on how to use them in a dish. The ubiquitous chicken breast seemed like a good vehicle. They are a nice, blank canvas for all sorts of flavors. To get in lots of color and make the meal complete, I used tomatoes and zucchini to make a nice side dish.
By planning things the right way, I was able to cook the chicken first then use the same pan for the zucchini and tomatoes. The produce, along with the spices we chose, were cooked with some garlic and cilantro.
Toward the end of the cooking time, I added some chicken broth and honey to make the dish extra saucy. The honey played nicely with the garlic and spices to create a dish that was bold, but not overpowering.
To give the dinner more of a Moroccan vibe, I served the chicken and zucchini mixture over cous cous, with extra sauce on top of all of it.
I have been out for Moroccan food, and while my technique may not be spot-on authentic, I think my flavors were a good alternative to airfare for three to Morocco.
MOROCCAN-SPICED CHICKEN AND ZUCCHINI
Time: 35 minutes; Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or a mix of pepper 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped 6 tomatoes, cut in a large dice 4 zucchini, cut in 1/8-inch slices
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup honey
Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts and reduce heat to medium. Cook chicken until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear, about 10 minutes. Turn chicken occasionally for even browning.
When chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside, covered.
Increase to high heat and, in the same skillet, add garlic, tomatoes, zucchini, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, ginger, cumin and cinnamon to the pan stirring to incorporate spices evenly. Cook on high for 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the pan.
Add chicken broth and honey. Reduce heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or until zucchini is done to your taste.
Stir remaining 1/4 cup of cilantro and any accumulated juices from the chicken into the sauce.
For serving, I like to make cous cous. Slice chicken breast and serve chicken and zucchini mixture over the cous cous in a shallow bowl, spooning extra sauce over the top of the chicken.
Cook’s note: If a chicken breast is significantly thicker in some parts than others, consider pounding it with a meat mallet to make it more even. When doing this, place chicken breast in a heavy plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap to minimize the mess.
If using an instant-read thermometer to check the doneness of the chicken, the USDA recommends the meat should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees.
By JILL L. REED