Imagine lifting the lid of a simmering pot and smelling the fragrant comingling aromas of garlic, ginger, coriander, cilantro and nutmeg. These are among the many aromas you find in Moroccan food, one of the cuisines that top the list when it comes to the number and type of healthful spices used. Moroccan dishes are a feast of flavors and health benefits—because they often contain as many as six to eight herbs and spices in one dish! These spices are full of polyphenols, compounds that act as antioxidants and reduce inflammation. Here, Paula Wolfert, author of The Food of Morocco and Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco (both from Ecco), tells us about rich spices used in Moroccan cuisine and how easy it is to make a traditional Moroccan stew known as a tagine. Yum…

Spices that are used generously in Moroccan cuisine include…

Anise seed. A digestive that helps relieve heartburn and an expectorant that is good for bronchitis and colds. Caution: Do not use this spice if you have high blood pressure.

Cinnamon. Helps regulate blood sugar levels and reduce levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

Cumin. Stimulates the digestive system and aids digestion. Helps the liver detoxify. Good source of vitamin C, iron and magnesium. Antimicrobial and antifungal.

Ginger. Reduces nausea, including seasickness. Helps reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness, arthritis pain and heartburn. Useful in treating coughs and asthma.

Paprika. Very high in vitamin C and other antioxidants. Can help normalize blood pressure and improve circulation.

Saffron. The carotenoid crocin gives saffron its distinctive yellow color. This potent antioxidant helps to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

Turmeric. Curcumin in turmeric is believed to reduce the oxidative damage to the brain that can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Eases arthritis pain.

Moroccan cuisine also features other spices such as cardamom, caraway, cloves, coriander, fenugreek, licorice and nutmeg…and the herbs cilantro, parsley, bay, oregano, thyme and marjoram.


This traditional Moroccan dish is made in a clay pot that also is called a tagine. The cone-shaped lid directs condensation back into the dish, resulting in concentrated flavors. But you can get the same result using a Dutch oven (a type of cooking pot) or a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting lid.

2½ large red onions

2 Tbsp saffron water*

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 Tbsp minced garlic

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp ground ginger

3 cups water

1 tsp black pepper

4 lbs chicken thighs and legs

½ tsp ground cumin

2 lbs pitted green olives

½ tsp sweet paprika

½ cup lemon juice

Salt (to taste)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Grate 2 of the red onions in a food processor. Press the onions in a strainer until dry, and discard the liquid. Its strong odor makes it ill-suited for reuse.

In a four-quart heavy casserole on the stovetop, combine the oil, garlic, ginger, black pepper, cumin, sweet paprika and saffron water* and mix to a paste. Add the onions, cilantro and parsley. Slowly stir in 3 cups water.

Add the chicken thighs and legs, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes to crisp the skin.

Soak the olives for 10 minutes in water and drain. Add the olives to the pot, along with the remaining ½ red onion, sliced. Simmer in the sauce for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice. Add salt (to taste). Transfer the chicken and sauce to a serving platter.

*To make saffron water: Crumble ½ teaspoon of saffron threads into a warm (not hot) dry skillet until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Combine with one cup of hot water. Can be frozen in an ice-cube tray.

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