Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Baked chicken and eggplant (Κοτόπουλο και μελιτζάνες στο φούρνο)

Having a summer garden in Crete means that you do not need to go food shopping very often. Apart from the money you save, the dishes you cook can be as creative as you want them to be. You sometimes don't know what will come out of the cooking vessel, because the combination of ingredients used may be unique, even to the cook, and the dish won't even have an internationally recognisable name to it. It'll just be a creative part of the Cretan kitchen.

eggplant aubergine

I had recently made some papoutsakia and moussaka with the fresh harvest of eggplant from our summer garden, which all went into the deep freeze for that rainy winter's day when there won't be so much fresh food or time to cook these fiddly dishes. There were some eggplants left over and I really needed to clear the fridge to make some more space for more fresh harvest, zucchini, as usual, being the most productive. Kiki recently helped me out in making an aubergine specialty from Zakinthos, but there are still too many aubergines leftover!

I had already boiled some chicken to make some stock for pilafi, a favorite Greek children's meal (whereas eggplant doesn't win so much favour among children until a later age). Plain boiled chicken is never very appetising on its own; it is usually used to make another dish. As I was toying with some ideas about how I was going to use up the boiled chicken and the excess aubergine crop, I came up with this winning dish, which I made up as I cooked.

baked chicken and eggplant

To make enough to feed 2-3 hungry people (or 4 small portions), you need
4 large pieces of boiled chicken
2 large aubergines
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
half a can of tomato pulp (I used my own home-made tomato sauce)
salt and pepper
oregano (optional)
olive oil

Chop the onion and garlic finely. Slice the aubergine thickly and chop into cubes. Heat some oil in a wide pot and saute the onion and garlic till transparent. Add the eggplant and saute on high heat. Eggplant soaks up olive oil faster than other vegetables, so you will need to add more to the pan (unless you don't want to for health reasons - but beware: the sticky aubergine will cause a burning mess in your pan). Cook till the eggplant is brown but still firm. Add the tomato pulp and season with salt and pepper. Let the sauce cook away for 15 minutes. 

Place the chicken in a small tapsi (a round roasting pan often used in Greek cooking) and season with salt, pepper and oregano (if using). When the sauce is ready, pour it over the chicken and add some more liquid (an oil/water mix in the ratios you prefer; a veritable Cretan adds more oil than water) to make a sauce as runny as you like. I probably added 2/3 of a cup. Place the dish in the oven and cook for half an hour, which is just enough time for the flavours to blend.

It would have been nice to have a photo of the plated dish, but it was so delicious, it just got eaten too quickly - nevertheless, look at who it inspired!

To serve, ladle out a piece of chicken and place it on a bed of rice (like pilafi). Then pour some of the vegetable sauce over the rice and chicken. Serve with crusty bread, a green salad and some chilled white wine. Pure ambrosia.

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