This is my new go-to, middle of the week, what the heck am I gonna feed ’em dinner. I love to cook, yes, but often I feel irritated and uninspired and just plain resentful that, once again, I’M in charge of dinner. Want to blow those dark feelings away? Well, here’s my solution. Mediterranean Chicken. My boys love, love, love it. We’ve had it maybe four times in the past week and a half and they are thrilled every single time. They hang over the pan, big, sad eyes wanting a taste. Every time I hear another story, “I just need a little taste to tide me over.” Or “Mama! Please! I never had lunch!”. I love it. And Lawdy, it is one easy recipe; most ingredients are probably lounging in your pantry waiting to be used. Redolent with the flavors of the Mediterranean, this dish is ready from start to finish in about one hour. Other ingredients may be added such as olives and capers but I tend to stay away from adding more ingredients with strong flavors as they take over and obliterate the more subtle notes of artichoke and lemon.
Mediterranean Chicken is heavenly served over noodles, mashed potatoes or rice and, my favorites, roasted spaghetti squash or mashed boniato, a kind of white sweet potato loved by Hispanics. This dish is perfect for all you gravy lovers and delicious the following day. Another quick dinner is to serve it with a few bags of fresh spinach sautéed with garlic, seared asparagus and hot, crunchy bread. Enjoy!
1/2 packed cup sun-dried tomatoes, dried not in oil, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
grated zest of one lemon
1 8.5 ounce can artichoke heart, drained, moisture squeezed out and roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups white wine, chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste
Pour olive oil into a large, high sided frying pan and heat over medium to medium high heat.
Salt and pepper chicken thighs and place all of them “skin” side down. Do not spread open the chicken. They’re best bunched up as they are packaged.
When chicken has browned turn all the pieces over to the other side, the side where the bone was.
When the bone side of the chicken has browned remove to a bowl and set aside.
To the pan juices add the onion, garlic and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and stir until well combined.
When the onion is clear add the grated lemon and artichoke hearts and stir well. Pour in the wine, broth or water. I’ve even done combinations of the three when I didn’t have much on hand. It all comes out great.
Return thighs to the pan, moving the onion artichoke mixture around and spooning it over all the chicken.
Cover and lower to a simmer. Cook the chicken over low heat for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
Oh, how we suffer when our children are not well, when they stumble and fall or when life deals them an unjust card. As mothers we do everything in our power to right the wrong but sometimes… well, it’s just not up to us. And when our hands are tied we support them in every possible way we can. Often food is the tool to bring comfort, the sense of safety, the warm blanket of security and sanctuary. Whether it be a long day or week for our precious ones or something more serious, I find I turn unwaveringly to comfort food . No matter what, the old American diehards, chicken and dumplings, biscuit, mashed potatoes, pot roast, often take the leading role. A cake, a pie, spinach artichoke dip… any number of dishes make the perfect offering. These offerings are our way of saying, “I want to help.”, “I understand.”, “I’m on your side.”. Many years ago when my husband, Jimmy’s, mother died, an extended family member baked some blondie-like bars, beyond belief luscious. Here’s the relationship. Jimmy’s brother-in-law’s brother’s daughter. The family came from New York to Boston to give comfort and this young girl, Anastasia, baked that sweet to offer comfort. I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or how crazy scrumptious they were, and when I thanked her she replied, “It’s nothing. It’s what I do when I’m sad.” Today she is the head of a successful company which produces only American-made chocolate sauces and candied nuts by the name of Old School Favorites. When she ships out her product she still provides comfort and happiness to countless kids who arrive home to the delights of an after-school hot fudge sundae to the person who wasn’t promoted and needs a late night, emergency chocolate shot while wrapped in their flannels alone in the kitchen. Anastasia’s Blondie Bars were the best I have EVER tasted. I cannot forget them after all these years, but sadly, she has forgotten and has no earthly idea what it was she baked. So here’s the thing. When you’re in trouble, when things have gone terribly wrong, when your world has come crashing down and you’re hurting, LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP YOU. When your girls, your posse, your circle, reaches out to you accept their offering. They want to help. They want to make things better. To ease your pain. And so often dinner and a bottle of wine in a basket is the only comfort they can provide. As I write this I have a best friend, divorced, whose son suffered greatly this past week with some highly critical medical issues. He’s somewhat out of the woods but the stress and worry are monumental. Lack of sleep and the feeling of helplessness compound her physical and mental exhaustion. Her son spoke of dying…and heaven. Tough words for a mother to hear. I can’t, no, I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes this past week. I texted her that I was still out-of-town and that I’d be home the following night. That I’d like to take them dinner several nights a week. I asked if I may do that for her, that it would be one small chore she didn’t need to bother with. And then I held my breath watching the little “bubbles” moving about my cell phone screen indicating she was replying. “YES!!!” was her answer. I’m elated. I can’t heal her boy but I sure can feed him! Gladly, GLADLY I can do that. And this is what I’m taking. Shawarma-style chicken. Rich, oven-roasted chicken thighs well-seasoned with a warm middle-eastern touch using, along with other aromatic spices, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, the chicken then cut into strips topping a cold, crisp salad of organic greens dressed with a homemade creme fraiche dressing. And to heighten the flavors of the chicken I’ll throw in some sweet and tart apple…maybe a chopped Macoun. Did I mention the crunchy, savory lardon, (fancy French term for bacon bits or match sticks), I’ll be scattering over that salad? Or the warm, homemade pita bread I’ll tuck into the basket? Well, that’s what I’m taking. It’s all easy and pretty. So when you want to do something for a friend that’s hurting, take an old classic and make it a new classic. Prepare one of your favorites you know your friend will appreciate. Or make this outrageous dish of chicken thighs. And keep on giving. It’s the season!
Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation popular all through the Middle East including Greece (gyros) and Turkey (doner). Traditionally large chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or pork are roasted on a rotating, vertical spit. As the meat rotates, crispy, thin shavings are sliced and served on pita bread or plated with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables and, of course, yoghurt sauce, tahini or hummus. When we order gyro in Greece often they are prepared with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, mustard, ketchup and hot, salty french fries all wrapped up in a warm pillow of pita. Somehow it all works! Often I serve these chicken thighs whole over a salad or sliced on soft pita bread with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, the caramelized onions the chicken baked on and tzatziki, that mouth-watering, garlicky yoghurt dip. I thought I had posted a recipe for my tzatziki but, apparently, slacker that I am, I haven’t. I don’t have set amounts but it’s an incredibly easy and forgiving sauce/dip. Peel a cucumber and, over a clean tea towel, shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater. Gather up the tea towel and, over the sink, squeeze the water out of the cucumber. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Transfer the cucumber to a medium bowl. Grate one or two garlic cloves into the cucumber. Add 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and 2 cups of Fage brand plain Greek yoghurt. Here’s the deal. I’ve found that a “Greek-STYLE” yoghurt is, typically, thin and watery and your tzatziki will be proof of that. The only yoghurt brand I use is Fage. It’s what they use in Greece. It’s thick and creamy the way yoghurt is supposed to be. If you can pour the yoghurt you don’t want it! And I use fat-free. It’s so rich and lush you’ll not see the difference. Mix the tzatziki well and season to taste with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving. There. You got a two-fer!