Sunday, January 30, 2011

Around the World...Greece

Greece has always held a certain fascination for me. Steeped in a long and rich history, this country can be credited for much of what we know today. From famous philosophers to the arts, language and even food, Greece has had much impact on the world.

From 900 B.C. to 158 B.C. (a span of 700 years) Greece was a powerful military force in the Mediterranean, with bases or colonies on the coast of Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Gaza, Italy, France, Spain, Sardinia, Persia and India. Greek colonists brought with them beautiful pottery, sculpture and crafts as well as food from home such as olives, cheese, figs, oil, wheat, barley, wine and honey. Because of Greek influence similar recipes, many with the same names, are found in all of these countries. When Rome became the dominant power in the Mediterranean after 158 B.C., the Romans' respect and admiration for Hellenic culture influenced them. Their Greek teachers taught them how to appreciate the arts, including the art of dining.

In 312 A.D., combined forces of Christian Romans and Greeks moved the seat of culture to Constantinople where it remained for 1000 years. The Byzantines retained the best of their 2 heritages: Greek art, language and literature, plus Roman laws and government. So when we talk of Mediterranean food we can truly say it encompasses the entire region.

As we know, Mediterranean food is considered the world's healthiest cuisine. What makes it so healthy is that its core features fresh produce. In addition, whole grains, beans, fresh and abundant seafood, fowl and occasionally meat make up the difference, along with loads of olive oil, all washed down with wine. The cuisine offers a plethora of nutrients that are vital for human health: vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, etc. Thank God it's my favorite cuisine!

I have an old Greek cookbook in my collection from which, over the years, I have made this dish fairly often. I recently thought about it again after having realized I hadn't made it in a while. It's on this week's menu.

Baked Lemon Oregano Chicken

1 roasting chicken, disjointed
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. dried oregano (if you prefer using fresh, use less and chop very fine)
2 lemons, juice only
3 cups boiling water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Wash chicken under cold running water. Pat dry. Heat butter and oil together until hot. Pour half of it into a shallow baking pan, spreading it to cover bottom. Lay pieces of chicken in pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano. Mix remaining butter mixture with strained lemon juice and baste fowl. Bake 1 hour at 375F, basting 3-4 times during baking. When cooked, remove to platter. Crank up the heat to 475F.

To make the gravy: add boiling water to pan drippings. Use a spatula to scrape bottom and mix in. Dilute cornstarch in 1/2 cup cold water and stir into pan. Place baking dish (minus the chicken) back in oven for 5 minutes at 475F.

Serve with mashed potatoes or rice. I like to serve a green vegetable on which the lemon gravy would also be delicious, such as broccoli, green beans or asparagus. A Greek salad to start would also not be bad.

The recipe doesn't say, but this should serve a family of 4 easily. (For only 2 people, prep 2 chicken breasts or 4 thighs or whatever, and cut recipe in 1/2 or 1/3).

To complete the Greek theme, serve olives and feta with pita chips to start, and finish with Baklava for dessert. Voila - Greek vacation minus the expense.

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