Friday, October 19, 2012

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Roasted Squash

My mother often made roast squash when I was a kid.  She cut and cleaned an acorn squash, then roasted it until tender.  She would scoop out the flesh after it cooled, and re-heat it in a frying pan with butter, salt and pepper.  That simple method is still probably my favorite today. Since it's fall and there are so many beautiful squash varieties to choose from I wanted to feature her recipe in a post.  Roast squash is rich, smooth and ever-so-slightly sweet so it pairs perfectly with spicy flavors.  In particular, it pairs perfectly with the spicy chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and ginger in the Moroccan-Spiced Chicken.

The spice blend for the chicken is fabulous.  Be sure to cook enough chicken to have some left over for a second meal of either a Moroccan Couscous Salad or a quesadilla (see below).  You'll have a little spice mix left over from the first meal that you can use in the second meal also.

The squash takes an hour to cook so start with that first, then you can mix the spice blend while it roasts.  I found a really pretty red-orange squash at the market.

The flesh inside was just as vibrant as the outside.

Clean out the strings and seeds and get the squash in the oven so you can start mixing your spice blend.  The recipe calls for hot chili powder but I only had regular so I added a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

After the spices are mixed, you add a little olive oil to make a paste and smear it on the chicken.  Note that the chicken now needs to go into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  (I somehow missed that until after the squash was done so it delayed dinner by about an hour.)

If you want to serve this dinner on a week night, roast the squash in advance and put the chicken breasts smeared with spice mix in the refrigerator overnight.  Then all you'll need to do is re-heat the squash and cook the chicken breasts, which only takes 4 minutes per side.  Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes!

You can't tell from the pictures, but these were giant chicken breasts.  The two of us shared one for dinner with our squash and had one left for another great meal.  Suggestions for meal number two are a Moroccan Couscous Salad or a quesadilla.  For the Moroccan Couscous Salad, cook some couscous and add a little of your leftover spice blend, plus some dried currants or raisins, sauteed zucchini, toasted pine nuts, parsley and a little lemon juice.  Cube up your leftover chicken and toss everything together.

If you'd rather have a quesadilla, thinly slice the leftover chicken and put it in flour tortillas with mexican shredded cheese, mild diced green chiles, a little lime juice, a little more spice blend and some cilantro.  Saute in butter until both sides are golden, then serve with guacamole and sour cream.

All three meals are easy, healthy and delicious.  Even if you think you don't like squash, try the roasted squash recipe.  As my mom always said, "it might be your favorite new thing".

click here for a printable recipe

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Roasted Squash
Serves 4

For the squash:
1 hard-shell squash such as acorn, buttercup, etc.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper

 For the spice mix:
Grated zest of one orange
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon hot chili powder (or 1 teaspoon regular chili powder and ¼ teaspoon cayenne)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

For the chicken:
3 tablespoons plus two teaspoons Moroccan spice mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small or 2-3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 pound)
1 tablespoon canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350d.  Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Cut the squash in half horizontally and scoop out the strings and seeds with a spoon.  Brush the cut sides with olive oil and place the squash halves cut side down on the baking pan.  Bake for 60 minutes or until the squash is tender and pierces easily with a fork.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, make the spice blend by mixing all spice mix ingredients together thoroughly.  Make a paste by mixing the measured amount of spice blend with the olive oil, then smear it on both sides of the chicken breasts.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When cooled, scoop the squash flesh out of the shell and into a bowl, then mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the butter.  Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until fully heated.

Heat the canola oil in a second frying pan over medium heat.  Saute the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Slice the chicken and serve with the hot squash.

Make Ahead: roast the squash and scoop the flesh into a bowl; cover and refrigerate overnight.  Prepare the spice mix and smear the paste on the chicken, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Proceed with the rest of the recipe the following evening.

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