Cooking Less American: The Greek Chicken Dish You’ve Got to Try!

My love of Greek food has been with me for a long time. Nearly 5 years ago I had the remarkably good fortune to share an apartment with my dear friend and Greek goddess of the kitchen, Morgan. Having always favored Greek eateries, I really fell in love with Greek food while living with Morgan.

Oregano Roasted Chicken
Oregano Roasted Chicken made by yours truly!

Morgan is a good cook, but what I loved most about eating Greek was the passion and love she and her family put into their food. Morgan’s family uses food as a way to connect with their culture and each other. Their meals are long, relaxing, and meticulously prepared. If you are longing for a full belly and a few good hugs, go have dinner with a Greek family!

My fondness of Greek cuisine made Greece a natural choice for my “Cooking Less American” project. Lemon & Olives, a Greek cooking blog, was my go-to resource for all things Greek food.

Lemon and Olives is the brainchild of Kenton and Jane. An adorable, newly engaged couple that documents their exploration of Greek cooking by blogging and sharing recipes with their growing online audience.

Kenton was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on Greek cooking with us and his easy and delicious recipe for Feta Stuffed Chicken.

Kenton, from ‘Lemon and Olives,’ talks about Greek Cooking

Kenton and Jane
Kenton and Jane of ‘Lemon and Olives’

How, if at all, do Greeks and Americans approach food differently?

Overall, I think the entire concept of food is viewed differently. Here in America, we take quick lunches, eat in front of the TV, and opt to go out and not cook. However, there is a growing trend to start eating healthy, which is good.

In Greece, lunch or dinner is an event. It’s a time to sit and talk. Enjoy fresh food and company. It’s not uncommon for it to last a few hours. Granted a busy American lifestyle can’t get away with taking 2 hour lunches, but give it a try on the weekends, or enjoy a nice family dinner with no TV.

In the way they cook and dine, what are the biggest differences?

For cooking in Greece, you’d head down to your local fishmonger and get the day’s catch. Unlike here where it is presented nicely. In Greece you’d be dealing with whole octopus, fish, etc. We Americans like this presented to us nicely, but in other parts of the world, you’ve  got to get your hands dirty and clean out most of the fish, trim the fat from red meat, etc.

Also, Greeks tend to cook what is in season, this is even more true as you get outside the major cities and into the villages. If you like something that isn’t in season, you may actually have a hard time finding it. Seasonal local fresh produce has been the norm in Greek villages for thousands of years.

In terms of dining, like I mentioned  above, it’s an event. You can be sitting at a Greek’s table for hours. Prepare yourself 🙂

You obviously have a passion for Greek food.  What inspires you the most about this cuisine?

For me, it’s the connection I get to my heritage. I was born in the USA, but my Greek family made me feel like I was Greek first. Now that I’m older the people that inspired me most to cook, like my grandparents, are no longer alive, so in a way I’m carrying on the traditions. I enjoy cooking recipes that have been in my family for hundreds of years or cooking dishes that haven’t changed much since Plato and Aristotle dinned.

Jane loves the fact that Greek Mediterranean food is so healthy; focusing on healthy fats like olive oil, and limiting the amount of red meat. She likes having a lot of dishes that are vegetarian, fresh, and simple to make. She also loves exploring the cuisine because she knows how much it means to me. It’s moved from being my thing to our thing.

If you could teach every American just one thing about Greek cooking what would it be?

Keep it fresh and simple. There are a plethora of Greek dishes that only have a handful of ingredients in them. When cooking, don’t overload it with herbs and spices. Following a Greek diet can lead to so many health benefits. And please, put the butter or margarine down and pick up some olive oil when cooking. Also, ditch salad dressing and go for olive oil and lemon instead.

What is your favorite Greek dish?

This is a question we’re asked often. For me, it changes, but today I would have to say dolmathes.

Jane loves pistitsio and a traditional Greek salad (the one with no lettuce).  

If you like feta (who doesn’t?), you’ll LOVE this chicken recipe. It’s simple to make, very tasty and, of course, nutritious. I made it when we had house guests and it was a big hit!

Feta Stuffed Chicken

During my month long exploration of Greek cooking, Colin and I enjoyed many great dishes. Below are some of our favorites.

Are you ready to start cooking Greek?

I highly recommend you download a free copy of Jane and Kenton’s e-cookbook Top 10 Greek Recipes under 500 Calories.

Does your family use food to connect with their heritage?

Tell me about it in the comments section below!

I might choose your favorite cuisine for my “Cooking Less American” project!

Cooking Less American: My Journey through a World of Healthy Recipes

Health food sucks.  The added fiber makes stuff hard to chew, every protein powder has an after taste, green drinks taste like grass clippings, and, no, that nutrition bar does not taste like a brownie!

In the past I have consumed my fair share of processed food products that made loads of health claims.  I looked pretty good and could use these healthy convenience foods to keep lean without actually cooking or sitting down to a plate of, I don’t know, food!

Over the years I’ve caught on to the game that food manufactures are playing and the amount of processed foods I consume has been on a steady decline.   But I still clung to a select few health food products.

Two things have lead me to dive head first into the world of eating just real food:

I moved to a country where convenience foods and nutrition supplements are so expensive, you would have to be crazy to buy them.

Travel Costa Rica Now

and

 I read the book in the Defense of Food By Michael Pollan

In defense of Food by Michael Pollan

The Story

While living it up in the small town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica, we ate very few Americanish foods.  We ate like the locals: beans, eggs, chicken, fruits, veggies and coffee.  I will admit that eating this way took more time in the kitchen – a kitchen that lacked an oven and dishwasher!  I had dish-pan hands, but the food tasted great and I felt pretty good.  In fact the digestion problems I have struggled with for years seemed to just go away.

In May we left La Fortuna for Escazu, which is arguably the most “Amercanized” city in Costa Rica.  Upon our arrival we were positively thrilled to find a few American chain restaurants – the kind that have pictures of the food in the menu.  Normally, I hate those places, but  they were a welcomed taste of home.  We indulged in a couple lunches out.  Yuck.  My digestion issues came back.

I try to not to let personal experiences dictate the nutrition advice I dispense.  I didn’t immediately take to the internet to rant about the evil American industrialized food system, but it did make me think!

Shortly after our TGI Friday’s bender, I happened to pick up the book, In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.   I couldn’t put it down!  Go buy it immediately.  You’ll be glad you did.

In his book, Pollan argues that a return to traditional cooking and eating habits could benefit our health.  His interpretation of nutritional research and the sociopolitical history of industrialized food was fascinating.  After finishing the final page, I felt deeply compelled to start eating differently.

The Experiment

For the next few months, I’m going to explore the recipes and cooking traditions of the world.  Each month I plan to choose a country or region and exclusively cook their food for dinner.  My hope is that this journey will positively impact our health, give me mad skills in the kitchen, and, most importantly according to my husband, be very yummy.

Are your ready?  Our first stop is Morocco.

Cooking Less American: Healthy One Pot Recipes from Morocco

My adventure into the world of Moroccan cooking has led me to the tajine.  The easy, one-pot cooking technique that makes drool-worthy dinner.  Look!  See?  I cooked that!

Moroccan One Pot Meal
Chicken Tajine with Sweet Onion and Tomato Jam

A tajine is a Moroccan clay pot used to cook rich and flavorful stews.  The word tajine is also used to refer to the style of cooking with the pot of the same name.  In general, a tajine will include an animal protein, a couple different veggies, a starch like chickpeas or yams, and always a rich blend of spices that you’re sure to fall for head-over-heels.

tajine
Tajine Pots
I’ve always been attracted to the concept of a one pot recipe because I will go to GREAT LENGTHS to avoid hand washing dishes.  Sadly, the only single pot meals I have actually cooked and whole-heartedly enjoyed came in a box marked Velveeta.  I truly love some good ole shells n’ cheese.  But alas, I am not a college student and my body is not nearly as forgiving as it once was.

Tajines offer the fast, straight forward one-pot cooking experience of shells n’ cheese and they’re about 1,000% more delicious.  Oh and certainly much more nutritious!  Over the course of the month, Colin and I ate different tajines nearly every night.

Beef tajine with peas and sweet potatoes.
Beef tajine with peas and sweet potatoes.

Delicious and so easy to clean up!  They paired very nicely with cool and refreshing Moroccan side salads, my easy roasted chick peas and a little wine of course 😉

Chorizo Tajine
Chorizo Tajine with Chick Peas

If you’re looking for an easy-to-cook, boredom-busting dinner, I recommend you try Amanda Mouttaki’s (the Maroc Mama) Chicken Tajine with Tomato and Onion Jam.  Amanda is a world traveling mother of two who happens to live in Marrakech.  Together with her husband, she runs a food tour of the city and is the creator of the blog Maroc Mama.  Amanda was kind enough to share this recipe with us and share some of her thoughts on cooking and food.

Amanda Mouttaki, The Maroc Mama, talks about Moroccan Cooking

How, if at all, do Moroccans and American’s approach food differently?  In the way they cook and dine? 
I think every situation is, of course, different, however in Morocco there’s a huge focus on eating fresh foods. Very little is processed, and what is processed is quite expensive and out of reach for many. Fresh produce, meat, and breads are bought almost daily. Everything is hyper-local as well, and with a year round growing season in most of the country, goods are available almost year round. But once they’re out of season, they’re gone. For example cherries are in season right now, but there won’t be any cherries in fall. On the flip side, I appreciate the American diversity of food. There’s a huge diversity of what’s eaten across America, and includes so much ethnic food from all over the world, you just don’t come across that as much in Morocco. One final comparison I see, is Moroccans take time to prepare and enjoy their food while in America this is rarely the case. 
 
You obviously have a passion for Moroccan food.  What inspires you the most about this cuisine? 
I started cooking Moroccan food when my husband immigrated to the US, and it was much more a matter of survival – he simply wouldn’t eat American food! It was then that I discovered I enjoyed cooking in general. I started with basic recipes, and worked my way through more complex foods. What I love the most is the mixture of cultures that contribute to the food and regional variations. History, geography, and ethnicity play a huge role in what is eaten and how it’s prepared. I guess my inner nerd really shines through!
 
If you could teach every American just one thing about Moroccan cooking what would it be?
Eating in season. The flavor and quality of produce here is exceptional in comparison to what I’m able to buy in the US. While sometimes it’s sad not to find certain things exactly when I want them, overall it’s taught me to be a better consumer and more aware of what we’re eating. 
 
What is your favorite Moroccan food?
Just one? There’s a dish that’s traditionally made for women after they give birth, it’s called rfissa. The dish is made by cooking onions and spiced chicken along with lentils, and then tearing up pieces of trid (it’s a flat flaky bread). A bed of trid is made and then the chicken and lentils are put on top along with the cooking liquid. Oh, it’s sooo good!
 
What is your favorite American food? 
Tex-Mex food. I didn’t realize how much I loved this until we moved to Morocco. I could eat tacos everyday!

Chicken Tajine with Tomato and Onion Jam

Chicken Tajine

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of chicken skin on
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 Tbsp crushed garlic
  • pinch crushed saffron
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp oil (vegetable, sunflower etc)
  • 1 pound of tomatoes
  • 1 heaping teaspoon honey
  • sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions

  • This is best prepared in a tajine but if you don’t have one, a heavy bottomed pot will work too.
  • In a bowl combine olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, crushed garlic, saffron, salt, and pepper.
  • Wash chicken well and remove any excess fat – but leave skin on.
  • Coat chicken in marinade and refrigerate while preparing the rest of the meal.
  • Slice one onion in half, remove skin and slice into pieces as thin as possible.
  • In the bottom of a tajine or pan add 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp of oil.
  • Turn heat on to low, and add onions. Saute until onions become soft and start to brown.
  • Prepare tomatoes by either grating the insides into a bowl, or blanch in boiling water, and remove skins. Chop into small pieces and add to the onions.
  • Make space in the tomatoes to add the chicken pieces, skin side down. The chicken should be nestled into the tomatoes.
  • Add the cover to the tajine or pot and allow to cook for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the chicken is cooked through and falling apart and liquid has reduced in the pot.
  • Mix in a teaspoon of honey at the very end and allow for a few more minutes of cooking. You can also top with sesame seeds right before serving.
  • Eat hot with crusty Moroccan bread.
  • **To make cooking even faster, marinate the chicken the night before, slice onions and place in a container, and grate/blanch tomatoes and add to a container. When it’s time to cook just pull everything out and follow the cooking steps.

 

 

 

 

Italian Chili

Italian Chili

¼ cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 large shallots, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

2 large zucchini, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning

1 package of Italian turkey or chicken sausage removed from their casings

½ cup red wine

1 small can (6 ounces) organic tomato paste

1 can (15-ounces) Diced Tomatoes

1 can of drained and rinsed northern white beans

 

1. Put the pine nuts in a high speed blender or mini food processor and add 1/3 cup water; process until smooth and creamy. Set aside for later.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a  skillet over medium-heat. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until shallots are soft.

3. Add the bell pepper and zucchini and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until vegetables soften.

4. Season with Italian spices and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer vegetables to a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker.

5. Add sausage and more oil if needed to the “dirty” skillet used to cook the vegetables and heat over medium-high;  cook until meat is no longer pink.

6. Pour the wine into the skillet and cook until liquid evaporates.

7. Stir in the pine nut cream, tomato paste and diced tomatoes, season with additional salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.

8. Transfer the meat mixture to the slow cooker along with the vegetables and beans. Gently stir together. Cook on high for 2 ½ to 3 hours or on low for 5 or 6 hours.

 

Easy Mashed Cauliflower

Once you have tried this fiber and vitamin rich side dish you will forget all about high-calorie mashed potatoes!

Cauliflower-Mash

  • 1 “steam in the bag” package of cauliflower florets
  • 1 TBSP Butter
  • 1 TBSP Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 TBSP of Milk (I like to use vitamin D)
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder or fresh Garlic
  • Salt &Pepper
  1. Steam cauliflower according to directions.
  2. In a food processor blend cauliflower, butter, cheese, and milk until it is smooth paste. Be careful not to over blend!
  3. Season to taste with onion powder, garlic, salt and pepper