Our brand new Cacao Almond Smoothie is not only super-delicious, but it’s also an antioxidant powerhouse! It’s a creamy, protein- rich blend of almond butter, GF rolled-oats, bananas, cacao, almond milk, sea salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne pepper. Cacao has traditionally been regarded as a superfood with real, powerful health benefits including: natural stress reducer, energy enhancer, and immunity booster.

The Ancient Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate for spiritual and ceremonial purposes as well. Cacao is known to awaken the creative senses as well as assist us on our inner journey to love and enlightenment. Raw, organic cacao has over 40 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries! We use Navitas Organic Cacao, a rare species from Peru that is more complex in flavor and nutrition. The beans are carefully selected from small-scale farmers in the heart of Peru’s forest. The flavors will surely delight!

My Culinary Journey!

My travels do not just encompass an exploration of new places and people, but also serve as a personal culinary journey. I recently attended a Mayan Cacao Ceremony in Tulum, Mexico, led by Shaman Nathalia. She guided us though the steps of this ancient ceremony, which is intended to heal the mental, physical and spiritual body. Cacao is believed to rebalance energy and to open the heart. As we silently sat around the cacao ceremonial table, Natalia roasted the cacao pods, peeled them and ground them. She mixed the paste with water, cardamom and sugar and then vigorously whisked them, over heat, using a molinillo until froth formed. She blessed the cacao mixture before serving it to everyone. I was in heaven!

Renee Cherkezian, RN is a nurse-turned-chef and co-founder of Epicured.

Chef Renee preps the Za’atar Chicken. Credit: Ben Fink Productions

In my house growing up, we would put za’atar on just about everything. Za’atar is a traditional Middle Eastern & Mediterranean spice blend and one of my very favorite flavors. Food carts and lunch joints across the Middle East use it for labneh, a thick and tangy sheep’s milk yogurt. In Lebanon, the traditional salad of tomatoes and ripped pita called fattoush is topped with a dusting of za’atar.

The za’atar you buy in the spice shop is usually a blend of different herbs. According to Lior Lev Sercarz, the master spice blender from the spice shop La Boîte, the most traditional elements of a za’atar blend are its namesake za’atar leaves along with sumac, sesame seeds and thyme.

When creating our new Za’atar Chicken, we looked all over the perfect blend. Which za’atar tasted best dry? Which za’atar tasted the best with extra virgin olive oil? Most importantly, which za’atar best complimented the chicken’s marinade of lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic infused olive oil, sumac, parsley black pepper?

I tested 7 different za’atars before finding one that met this standard. La Boîte’s blend was simply the best, hands down. The Za’atar Chicken is one of my favorite new creations. It’s healthy, fresh, and it takes me back to my childhood when I was first inspired to cook. I hope you enjoy.

The Za’atar Chicken with Quinoa Tabbouleh. Credit: Ben Fink Productions