May 8, 2010

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

I was already making this Greek style dish when we saw on the news a report about the Greece's banking crisis.  It felt strange eating it at the same moment the Greeks were rioting at their capital.  But this dish is inspired by a fond memory.

Until recently our family lived in Miami, Florida.  We spent two years there, on South Beach actually.  It's a long story, how we got there, why we were there, but part of the reason is that three of my husband's sisters live there.  South Beach is a crazy town my friends, and if you haven't been you must go at least once.  Two blocks from our apartment was a place called Taverna Opa, a Greek restaurant where my seven year old niece begged to have her birthday party.  I knew that Opa's manager lived in my apartment building, a sharply dressed Greek man who I always seemed to be running into in the elevator (and who would not hire me as a waitress, I reminisce bitterly), but aside from this I didn't know what to expect.

When we walked in I looked around at the long wooden tables and the nicely spare decor.  I could see nothing about it that would lure a child to want to have a birthday party there.  But the food was fantastic!  Mouthwatering, in fact.  Unforgettable I say.  Everything was served family style: salads, fried cheese (saganaki), kabobs, all doused in lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Mmmm.  I've had Greek food in numerous diners run by the Greeks back in Wisconsin.  They served Spanikopita and Souvlaki and other traditional dishes but also American fare, and all for good prices.  But at Opa's I was eating authentic all the way, and I let everyone at the table know how much I enjoyed it, then and for weeks after.

I heard a little rumor before we got there that it was acceptable to dance on the tables, and I didn't really believe it.  I mean, we were in South Beach and all, where people danced on bars regularly, but on tables?  I was proved wrong.  Right there in the middle of the long, narrow table, my niece and all the little girls dressed in princess costumes, along with their aunties, got right up on the table to dance. Then the waiters came and threw piles and piles of napkins in the air like thick confetti. 

I was a little put off.  I couldn't find my plate, those napkins were being wasted, peoples' feet were a little too close to my food.  I was happier when they moved over to the empty tables, where the kids had an absolute blast dancing and jumping from table to table (Eek!  I know that looks dangerous!  It was well supervised.)  It was chaotic fun.  To top things off a Greek belly dancer arrived to join in on the fun.  For tips, of course.  What a crazy place!  So Greek, yet so South Beach. 

I guess this dish is my tribute to Opa's fantastic authentic Greek fare and my love for Spanikopita.  I've made this many times with ground turkey and that's good as well, especially when used for a filling for stuffed peppers (heck, it's great without meat too), but I've reinvented it a bit, and the marinating makes all the difference. 

Spinach and lemon go together like love and marriage.

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into one inch chunks
juice of one lemon, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbl. olive oil
1, 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups cooked brown basmati rice
salt and pepper, to taste
feta cheese, lemon slices, and chopped or slivered almonds for garnish, optional

Put the chicken in a non-reactive dish (non-plastic).  Mix with oil, half of the lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate.  Marinate for at least one hour, or up to three (any longer and the lemon juice will start to cook the chicken).  In a hot skillet saute the chicken until no longer pink in the middle, remove from pan.

In the leftover juices saute the onion and spinach and the third clove of garlic, adding more oil if necessary.  When the onion is translucent add the rice and the remainder of the lemon juice, saute for a minute more, salting and peppering to taste. 

Serve the rice and spinach, top with chicken and garnishes.

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