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Why You Should Put Cinnamon on Your Chicken

- Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Tina Stamos
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Tina Stamos

I’m convinced cinnamon isn’t just for sweets

If your relationship with cinnamon is anything like mine use to be, you bust it out during the holidays and occasionally sprinkle it in your oatmeal or measure some out for a (rare) batch of snickerdoodles. If this is still your cinnamon situation, let me be the first to tell you that you’re missing out!

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A few years ago, I opened my fridge to find a sad glowing white space, almost empty except for a head of cauliflower. I had bought it feeling a little too much cooking ambition. There I stood, staring into the void of my dinner options, and I decided to be creative. Determined to keep the cauliflower from going to waste, I grabbed my computer and ventured into the jungle of food blogs to find a recipe I might like, because (I must admit) I hated cauliflower.

I whisked olive oil with a hefty teaspoon of ground cinnamon and whole cumin seeds—the recipe told me to coat my cauliflower florets in this mixture before roasting it with chopped tomatoes and a can of chickpeas. I was skeptical, but I was also desperate. Each bite of the smoky spiced vegetable with the tang and sweetness of fresh tomatoes and warm chickpeas forever changed my prejudice against cauliflower. Now, I make this dish nearly every week.

My cauliflower conversion was significant, but even more exciting was my discovery of a new world of savory recipes that call for cinnamon the way my Maw Maw uses salt—generously. My entire way of cooking has changed: I simmer rice on my stove with cinnamon, cardamom, and garlic; I bathe shredded chicken in butter, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, cumin, and paprika; I sizzle sweet potato cubes in the oven with a dusting of cinnamon, cayenne, and garlic salt.

If you stop by my kitchen and open my spice cabinet, you’ll find cinnamon front and center, no longer tucked in the back with ground sage and whole mustard seeds. The sweet warmth of cinnamon is an amazingly diverse spice that pairs well with both salty and acidic applications, not to mention the near perfection of cinnamon cooking into a fatty piece of meat (like this recipe for succulent chicken breasts). While you don’t want to overdo it with this pungent flavor, the right amount of a strong aromatic element like cinnamon helps to balance the richness of unctuous meat.

Here are a few new ways to use cinnamon in your everyday meals:

Spiced Oil: For “meaty” vegetables and starches like cauliflower or potatoes, coat them in a mixture of olive oil, cinnamon, cumin, fresh garlic, and salt before roasting them.

“Shawarma” Spices: For leftover shredded chicken, sauté the following spices (you don’t have to use all of them) in a buttered skillet and add the chicken to warm it and coat it with the mixture: cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper. Top a salad or make a shawarma pocket with this flavorful rejuvenated chicken.

Spicy Cinnamon Rub: For a pork tenderloin or beef roast, make a rub out of sugar, garlic powder, cinnamon, thyme, cumin, nutmeg, and cayenne. Coat the meat in the rub, allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes, then sear all sides of the meat in a skillet before roasting it in the oven until done.

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