Yesterday was one of those days where I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for when it came to figuring out what I was going to cook for supper.(See? I am 'normal' afterall!). Everything I considered, my inner voice would reply 'nnaaahhh' to. After suggesting chicken, fish and sirloin, all of which pesky Inner Voice again said 'nah' to, I pleaded, 'For the love of God...just throw something out that I can build on!'. (Ok, so maybe I'm not quite ready for the 'normal' badge yet because Inner Voice was really starting to get on my nerves and I was a hair's breath away from saying, "Shag you! I'm gonna order in pizza!). Then Inner Voice said, 'How about pork chops?'. Hmmmmm.......pork chops. What could I do with pork chops? Annoying Inner Voice was suddenly silent. Obviously, I was now on my own. I wasn't sure how I was going to cook the pork chops so I decided to sit and sip a mug of green tea and see if anything would pop into my head. I knew my mojo was finally waking up when I realized whatever I was going to do with pork chops, I wanted it to be different and exotic.
As per my norm, I started scanning the refrigerator and cupboards, looking for inspiration. And then I spied it! There, in the last cupboard was a box of couscous with the words, 'Natural and Exotic' printed right on the package. Surely it wasn't a coincidence that I felt the urge to do something exotic and the package of couscous was promising to deliver? Standing in my kitchen with a package of pork chops in one hand and a box of couscous in the other, looking from one to the other, the light bulb went off: Eureka! Moroccan! This would be a meal that I could get excited about!
Moroccan cuisine is heavily influenced by Morocco's interactions with other cultures and nations over the centuries. Characteristic flavourings include lemon, olive oil and dried fruit. Spices are used extensively and common spices used include turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and chilli powder, all of which are spices that are heralded as having amazing healing powers. Modern science is beginning to discover the ultimate power of spices and herbs as weapons against illnesses from Alzheimer's disease to cancer. Seasoning dishes with spices and herbs also allows us to use less of other ingredients that are often linked to health problems such as salt, sugar and saturated fat. I still wasn't quite sure where all of this was going to take me and, by default, supper, but I did know that I was going to add turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and chilli powder to whatever ended up on the plate.
Turmeric is one awesome spice with tremendous health benefits. Curcumin, a compound in turmeric, has potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that has been proven to be more effective at reducing inflammation than over the counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen and as effective as the more powerful drug, Celebrex. Curcumin may also prevent and treat acne, allergies, Alzheimer's, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cholesterol problems, colitis (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), cystic fibrosis, depression, type 2 diabetes, eczema, eye infections, flatulence, gallbladder disease, gout, gum disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, itching, liver disease, macular degeneration, obesity, pain, Parkinson's, psoriasis, rash, scleroderma, stroke and wounds. David Frawley, PhD, founder and director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies in Sante Fe, NM, states, "If I only had one single herb to depend upon for all possible health and dietary needs, I would chose the Indian spice turmeric." He says that turmeric is a spice that everyone 'should get to know and live with'.
Cinnamon was prized by King Solomon and used by ancient Greeks and Romans to boost appetite and relieve indigestion. Studies suggest that by adding cinnamon to food, (up to 1 teaspoon a day, usually given in capsule form), might help people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood sugar by lowering post-meal blood sugar spikes. It may also prevent and treat cancer, cholesterol problems, food poisoning, heart disease, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome, stroke, ulcer and wounds. In a recent study, adding as little as 1/4 teaspoon a day can lower blood sugar by 18% and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 7%!
Ginger is rich in inflammation fighting compounds, such as gingerols, which some experts believe may hold promise in fighting some cancers and reducing arthritis pain. A recent study of people who took ginger capsules for 11 days reported 25% less muscle pain when they performed exercises designed to strain their muscles, comapred to a similar group of people who took placebo capsules. Another study found that ginger extract injections helped relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee. Ginger also has long been touted as a stomach soother by reducing nausea caused by morning sickness, or following surgery or chemotherapy.
Paprika is a spice made from air-dried fruits of the chile pepper family that is usually smoked, giving it a unique, earthy flavour. Some of the health benefits of paprika are: lightens complexion, prevents occurrence of wrinkles, it's antibacterial properties may prevent occurence of acne, prevents hair loss, maintains hair colour, anti-inflammatory properties are helpful in relieving swelling by arthritis, lowers blood pressure, boosts metabolism, decreases the development of macular degeneration and cataracts and promotes sound sleep.
Lastly, chilli powder. Ironically, chilli peppers help trigger the body's natural cooling systems. Chilli powder contains capsaicin which revs up the body's metabolism and may boost fat burning. It may also lower the risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer causing bacteria. It also helps the heart by keeping LDL (bad) cholesterol from turning into a more lethal artery clogging form.
There's something to be said for the satisfaction I get by making something that not only tastes great but that's also really, really beneficial to the overall health of the ones I love. For my Moroccan Pork Chops, I combined ground ginger, freshly ground black pepper, ground cinnamon, paprika, chilli powder and turmeric with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. I whisked it up a little and then spooned it on each of my pork chops, then turned them over and spooned the remainder on the other side. I placed my pork chops in a large zipperlock baggie and placed them in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours before I was ready to cook.
I wanted to make a sauce or topping for my pork chops because they were quite thick and I knew they would stay juicer if I browned them and then baked them in the oven to finish. But the oven is dry heat and I wanted to keep them as moist as I could, hence why I wanted a topping. I decided to make a tomato based topping with the same seasonings plus onion, garlic, lemon juice, some diced dried apricots and a little honey. I didn't have any canned tomatoes on hand so I took four roma tomatoes, tossed them in a little extra virgin olive oil and placed them in a pan in the oven to roast for about 30 minutes. It was at that point that I took my pork chops out of the refrigerator to let the temperature to come up a bit before grilling them on my stove top before baking them in the oven. (Meat doesn't respond well to sudden, extreme changes in temperature - it tends to 'seize' up). When my tomatoes were done, I took them out of the oven to cool before sliding the peels off and dicing them for my topping mixture.
I heated up my stove top grilling pan and added my pork chops to brown them on both sides. After they were browned, I transferred them to a large casserole dish. I then started in on my topping: I sauteed onion and garlic with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and chilli powder. I then added in my tomatoes with the juice of half a lemon, about 1/3 cup of chopped dried apricots and a teaspoon of honey. After it had come up to a boil, I poured my topping over my pork chops, covered my dish with aluminum foil and placed the dish in the oven to bake for about 35 minutes.
For my Moroccan Couscous, I chopped up about 1/8 cup of each dried cranberries, apricots and sultana raisins. I added them to a small saucepan and added in 1 cup of no salt added chicken broth. When this came to a boil, I added in my couscous along with 1 tablespoon of extra vrigin olive oil, as per package directions. I placed the cover on the pot and removed it from the heat. All I had to do from there was fluff up my couscous with a fork when I was ready to plate.
When my pork chops were done, I plated them and then spooned a generous amount of the tomato topping/sauce on top, and served it with an ample amount of Moroccan Couscous. When I placed the plate in front of my 11 year old, she asked what it was, (with genuine interest I must add). "Moroccan Pork Chops seasoned with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and chilli powder, topped with a tomato, onion, garlic, apricot sauce, and a side of Moroccan Couscous with apricots, raisins and cranberries.". And then, from out of nowhere, I began channelling Humphrey Bogart and said, "Here's lookin' at you kid.". She looked at me quizzically but my "Casablanca" reference was not lost on my husband, smarty pants that he is!
Moroccan Pork Chops with Couscous filled our home with the wonderful aromas of exotic spices and, despite the generous amount of seasoning, everything was rounded out very nicely with the addition of the dried fruit. There was some Moroccan Couscous leftover and my daughter has asked for that with her lunch tomorrow and it's equally tasty as a cold salad as it is a warm side, an added bonus although none is needed with this dish.
Pork chops were on sale this week at my local grocery store , and everything else I found in my cupboards and refrigerator. From start of cooking to serving, not including marinating time or the roasting of tomatoes, this meal only took about 40 minutes, with less than 10 minutes actual hands on cooking. Moroccan Pork Chops with a side of Moroccan Couscous....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!