A Taste of the Eastern Mediterranean

This Greek style lemon chicken combines boneless and skinless chicken thighs with a simple marinade of lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano. Chicken thighs are a freezer staple in our house, as they are versatile, inexpensive and do not dry out during cooking. 

To accompany them are two dishes with flavors redolent of the eastern Mediterranean. Orzo, beloved by Greeks and underused in this country, makes a quick-cooking pilaf with wilted spinach and dill. 

A tangy Turkish beet salad, inspired by the wonderful Turkuaz Grill in Riverhead, rounds out the menu. Both dishes can be made ahead and are great served at summer barbecues. As we move into the warmer months, I hope that you cook and enjoy my take on the cuisine of this vibrant region.

Greek Style Lemon Chicken

For the best results, use a stovetop grill pan with ridges or cook on an outdoor grill for 7-8 minutes on each side. I use dried oregano from Agora Greek Market in Mattituck. I urge you to purchase some, as it will make this dish more flavorful.

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat

Juice of one lemon
½ tsp. fine sea salt (use some for sprinkling)
¾ tsp. dried Greek oregano
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Fresh black pepper

Place the chicken thighs in a shallow dish in a single layer. Season lightly with a little of the sea salt. Place the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and whisk until combined. Drizzle over the chicken, coating evenly, and refrigerate, covered, for two hours and up to four hours, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken pieces from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

Heat a lightly oiled cast iron grill pan or sauté pan to medium-high. Remove the chicken pieces from the dish, shaking off any excess marinade, and add to the pan, smooth side down. Cook for two minutes, before lowering the heat to medium for a further 6 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook for a further 8 minutes until cooked through. Aim for a total cooking time of about 16- 18 minutes. Chicken should register 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer when done. Remove to a cutting board and allow to rest for five minutes before slicing crosswise and serving with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little extra sea salt and pepper to taste.

Orzo and Spinach Risotto

Greek Orzo is best for this dish, as it is larger grained than the Italian version. I used a wonderful artisanal brand purchased from Agora Greek Market in Mattituck. 


1 medium shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups baby spinach washed and dried
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1½ cup Greek orzo
3½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Fine sea salt and fresh black pepper


Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan with a lid. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté over low heat for a couple of minutes until softened. Add the orzo and lightly toast in the warm oil for a minute or two. Stir in three cups of the broth and cook, covered, over low heat for eight to ten minutes, stirring frequently and adding a little extra broth if it starts to stick. Stir in spinach and cook until slightly wilted before adding the dill. When the orzo is just tender, remove from the heat, cover with a clean dish towel and then the lid. Let rest for a few minutes until ready to serve, before adding the grated parmesan, fresh black pepper, and salt to taste. 

Turkish Beet Salad

It is important not to overcook the beets. They should be slightly firm, or the salad will be mushy. Use dark red beets only, as the hybrid varieties do not have a strong enough flavor. You can adjust the amount of lemon juice to make a sharper tasting salad, and even add a splash of white wine vinegar. 


1½ pounds of red beets, trimmed, scrubbed and dried (About five medium beets)

½ tsp. lemon zest
Juice of one lemon
¾ cups of Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Fresh black pepper

To Serve
½ cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley


Wrap the beets securely in aluminum foil in two batches. Place on a heavy sheet pan. Roast in a 375-degree oven for about 50 minutes until firm tender. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Beets can also be parboiled in a pan of simmering water for 15 minutes.

Peel the cooled beets and grate coarsely with the largest hole on a box grater. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and fold into the beets. Place in the refrigerator for an hour to allow flavors to develop. Garnish with the chopped walnuts and parsley before serving.

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