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January, 2009

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

By Cheryl Forberg

We've heard and read much about the health benefits conferred by a variety of "super" foods such as blueberries, pomegranates, spinach and tomatoes. It’s no coincidence that these foods are vibrantly colored. The beneficial antioxidant compounds they contain are actually found in the pigment component of these fruits and vegetables.

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

We’re still not sure of the role that antioxidant-rich foods play in our diet, but preliminary studies indicate they may also neutralize harmful free radicals in our bodies, potentially slowing the aging process. About 85 percent of the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are water-soluble. This means that 5 hours after you eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable, the water-soluble antioxidants have already left your system. We do store up fat-soluble antioxidants for a few weeks, however.

That’s why you should make sure you have a good source of antioxidants every few hours throughout the day in meals, snacks, and beverages. While cooking can reduce the amount of water-soluble antioxidants (such as vitamin C), it increases the bioavailability of fat-soluble antioxidants, like lycopene, which is found in tomatoes. That said, raw or cooked, one source is not necessarily better. Besides, some people don’t tolerate raw foods well. Just as a variety of antioxidant-rich foods provide an inexplicable synergy of health benefits, a mix of antioxidant-rich foods, both raw and cooked will provide a great balance of these clock-stopping nutrients.

While fruits and vegetables play a pivotal role in a healthy diet, spices and herbs are powerful allies in an antiaging pantry. Not only do they provide complex layers of flavor to replace what salt and fat deliver, but many of them are loaded with antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals.

  • Cinnamon contains a compound called MHCP (methylhydroxy chalcone polymer) that makes insulin more effective
  • Ginger contains a bundle of plant chemicals that can aid digestion and ease motion sickness. It promotes production of bile in the liver and gallbladder, which helps digest fats. This, in turn, helps lower cholesterol levels.
  • Cumin - this pungent spice is commonly used in Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes. It has a nutty flavor and aroma, and its abundant phytochemicals have antioxidant as well as digestive properties.
  • Turmeric - Its vibrant, deep yellow-orange color gives turmeric double duty as a flavoring as well as a dye for textiles (and your clothes, if you're not careful!). This spice has powerful properties as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
A flavorful way to combine these seasonings with a mélange of colorful fresh vegetables and whole grains is in a classic North African dish called a tagine. A tagine (also spelled tajine) is a flavorful stew and also the name of the dish in which it is cooked.


Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons
Yield: Four servings

Ingredients:

Marinade:
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cup chopped onion, divided
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 ounce breasts)
2 medium zucchini (one yellow and one green) cut crosswise in 1” in pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut in julienne
1 yellow bell pepper
3 cups of reduced sodium fat free chicken broth
1/2 cup pitted green olives
3 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon (or grated lemon peel)

Serving suggestion: bread

Instructions:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the marinade ingredients (except for 1 cup of the onions) and pulse to make a paste Toss the chicken breasts in the marinade until well coated. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Use a tagine (traditional Moroccan dish) or a large Dutch oven pan to cook the tagine. Heat tagine or Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Add chicken breasts and brown lightly on each side. Add any remaining marinade, remaining cup of onions, zucchini, bell pepper and the broth. Bring broth to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Turn chicken and vegetables and cover. Simmer mixture for about ten minutes or until vegetables are tender and chicken is just cooked through. Stir in olives and lemon. Serve tagine over whole-wheat couscous and garnish with cilantro leaves.