The Turks know their way around a grill. If you want a great grilled recipe, then you know that when you find a Turkish recipe, you need look no further. You have found the perfect way to cook whatever it is you want to throw on the grill. Why are they so good at it? It starts with the marinade.
There are 2 reasons to marinade your food. To tenderize it and to flavor it. Chicken thighs, which I used for this dish, don’t really need to get tenderized, but, they can use a bit of flavoring. A good marinade not only gets into the meat, but, also, creates a flavorful crust, then you have something special.
For the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically Turkey in this case, you need some yogurt, some spice and some garlic. I grated a fresh chili on a cheese grater into some yogurt with finely minced garlic, lemon zest and smashed cumin seeds. I like buying whole spices and grinding them up myself. This time, though I didn’t want them too ground. I like when you have little bits of the cumin that stick to the chicken and give extra flavor in that bite instead of flavoring the entire dish. So, I used a mortar and pestle to give it a bit of a smash leaving some mostly whole and some ground down a bit. But, if you only have ground then that will work as well.
You don’t need more than a couple of hours in the marinade. In this case I let the chicken breast sit in the marinade for about 90 minutes. You could even get away with only 20 minutes, too. As I mentioned, you don’t need it to break down the meat and the flavor will come from the marinade getting cooked onto the surface of the chicken, so you will still get plenty of flavor even in just a little time. And, unless you are going to marinade for only 20 minutes, don’t put any salt in there. It will leech out the water in the chicken, causing it to dry out. Longer than 20 minutes and you need to salt the chicken right before grilling.
I use my trusty grill pan instead of grilling it outside because it only takes a few minutes this way. If I had a bunch of other things going on the grill I might be tempted to fire it up, but I kept it simple this time. Get the pan over medium high heat while you prepare the chicken. I remove the chicken from the marinade and season with salt and pepper then spray the pan with cooking spray. Lay the chicken down smooth side down (The side the skin would have been on so it doesn’t stick to the pan) and cook it for a few minutes per side. Let it cook for at least 3 minutes before moving it around so it doesn’t stick. Make sure your chicken is cooked through by piercing it with a knife and checking if there is any pink there. Before I cook the chicken, though, I like to grill some lemon wedges. You get more juice out of the lemon this way and it makes the juice slightly sweeter. And it kind of looks sexy on the plate!
When it is cooked through serve it with home made rice pilaf and Turkish style spinach (See #5 on the list.) A perfect condiment for it would be the Turkish Abaganouç, or Turkish Baba Ghanoush. It’s something that’s served alongside some grilled meats, almost as a sauce, and would lend a nice smoky flavor.
The home made rice pilaf that I made with it is so easy you will never buy one of those box ones again. When you make your own, you are in control of the salt and the flavorings. Since they take the same amount of time to cook, there really is no reason to not cook your own.
I use a cup of medium grain white rice for 2 people. Rinse your rice 4-5 times or until the water is no longer cloudy and drain. Then get a sauce pan on medium high heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil. For every cup of rice I use 1/4 cup of orzo pasta, which I toast in the olive oil until they turn a nice golden brown. Just stir the orzo in the hot oil for a few minutes and it is done. Don’t walk away though since it will burn fast! Once it is toasted just add the rice and cover with chicken stock until it is about an inch higher than the rice. Add a teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil for every cup of rice. Then stir.
With those proportions, you will get perfect rice every time. So, if you have 4 people eating, use 2 cups of rice, 1/2 cup of orzo, 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of oil and so on. It’s fool proof. Why don’t I give the measurements for the liquid? Because the level of the liquid over the rice is what’s important. I don’t know what kind of pan you are using. If I told you you should use 2 cups of broth to 1 cup rice, but your pan is wide and the rice isn’t covered well, it will boil down too quickly and the rice won’t be cooked by the time the broth is absorbed and evaporated. Don’t focus on the measurement, just make sure it covers the rice by an inch and it will come out perfect.
Once the rice comes to a boil, turn it down to simmer and cover. You shouldn’t keep opening it up, so I check the rice after 15 minutes. The broth should be just about gone, if it is, then I turn the heat off and let it sit covered for about 5-8 minutes. Give it a taste, it should be firm to the bite and not mushy.
This could be a Sunday lunch or a weeknight meal if you have 30-40 minutes to cook. It’s light and healthy and tastes oh so good! I love the fresh, bright bite of heat that the chili gives, but if you don’t like spice then you can of course leave it out.
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