“There came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon” says the Bible.
Great spice caravans have crossed the harsh Arabian sands for as long as people have kept records. Envious Greeks swore that Arab merchants were so rich that they used cinnamon for firewood. A Greek text from the fifth century explained that great birds of prey living on sheer cliffs made nests of cinnamon sticks. Arabs distracted the birds with pieces of meat and gathered cinnamon while valiantly beating back attacks.
Given the dangers involved in obtaining cinnamon, the exorbitant prices charged for it were certainly justified. Little did westerners know that the cinnamon that reached Europe came from much further east, grown in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and carried on boats to the Arabian peninsula.
Cinnamon trees are heavily pruned when cultivated, reducing them to the size of a bush. New stems that emerge regularly are snipped off to produce the spice. The outer bark is scraped off the branches and the smooth inner bark shaved off in sections. Once dried, the bark curls into rolls that are chopped into shorter lengths to form the familiar quills that are sold in grocery stores.
Cinnamon, both whole and in powdered form, is used extensively in South Asian and Middle eastern cuisines. It is used to make many spice blends, to flavour Masala Chai (tea), rice pilafs, marinades and many desserts.
It is a key spice in my marinade here and when these skewers hit the grill, a heady scent of cinnamon and spice fills the air. These chicken skewers make wonderful appetizers or a main course. Serve them with warm flatbread, grilled vegetables and some hot sauce for dipping.
For more recipes with cinnamon, try Egyptian style Grilled Chicken or these Moroccan Chicken kababs or this delicious Lamb Shawarma.
Cinnamon Roasted Chicken With Fresh Herbs
1-1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1/4 cup each: lemon juice, oil
Salt to taste
1 tsp each: honey, paprika
1/2 tsp each, ground spices: black pepper, dried ginger, cinnamon, cumin
2 tbsp each, finely chopped fresh herbs: coriander, parsley, mint
1 tsp sumac
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Cut chicken into large bite sized pieces. Place in large mixing bowl.
Add all of the remaining ingredients, except sumac and lemon wedges and toss to mix well.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight for flavours to blend.
When ready to cook, heat outdoor barbecue to medium.
Thread chicken onto skewers, reserving leftover marinade.
Grill chicken skewers for about 12-14 minutes for chicken breast, and about 20 minutes for thighs, turning occasionally and basting with reserved leftover marinade.
When chicken is tender and basting marinade is cooked through, transfer skewers to a platter.
Sprinkle evenly with sumac and serve with wedges of lemon.