Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chicken Breast "Rolls" stuffed with Spinach and Feta: Turkish treat

This was one of the earlier recipes I taught in my Evening at Emory classes years ago. I learned something similar to it from my Turkish restaurateur friend, Kazim, when I used to hang out at the Istanbul Café as "guest chef", doing specials on Saturdays. It's a relatively easy thing to prepare, but looks satisfyingly complex. The nice part is it can be prepared ahead and roasted shortly before dinner. And it roasts quickly.

The cuisines of Turkey and its neighboring countries offer many delightful dishes in which the principal ingredient is stuffed with something contrasting, whether the main ingredient is grape leaves, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, chicken breast, or even meatballs. In this case, the stuffing is spinach and feta cheese, with dill and currants or raisins for a little complexity.

The chicken rolls scream out for a rice pilaf to accompany them. One such recipe can be found in my blog in the archives on 1/5/07. A salad would go well with this, such as a "Greek" salad.

While religious Turks abstain from alcohol, the Turkish guys I know are pretty secular and would have beer or a wine with dinner. A cold dry rosé or white wine would go with this, but a medium-bodied red such as a Pinot Noir or an Italian chianti or other Sangiovese would also do very well.

The recipe serves six. Accompany with a rice dish. A simple yogurt sauce recipe is included below, as is a spinach dip to make for an appetizer with the half package of frozen spinach not needed for stuffing the chicken.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Spinach and Feta Cheese

6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
Sumac (available in Middle Eastern groceries)or paprika for topping
Chopped dill or parsley for garnish
Yogurt for accompaniment

Stuffing
1/2 of a (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach*, thawed (at room temperature or use microwave)
1/4 lb feta cheese, crumbled finely with fork
3 tablespoons currants or raisins
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon salt (somewhat less if the feta is very salty)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Trim any fat and tough parts from the chicken. With a sharp knife partly slice flat-wise part way through the thicker part of the chicken and open it out (butterfly style) to flatten and widen the chicken pieces. Rub both sides with lemon juice and sprinkle very lightly with salt. Refrigerate if prepared ahead of time.

Prepare the stuffing by squeezing the water out of the thawed spinach. Combine the spinach with the remaining ingredients and mix well. (This can be done ahead of time and the stuffing refrigerated, or the chicken can be stuffed ahead and refrigerated until ready to roast.)

Heat the oven to 475 degrees (very hot). Lightly oil a baking dish.

To stuff the chicken, divide the stuffing into 6 equal parts. Open the chicken pieces with cut ‘inside’ facing up. Place one portion of the stuffing, compacted into a log shape in your hand, crosswise onto the chicken breast. Fold the chicken top and bottom over the filling to make a roll and place on the baking dish, seam side down. Arrange the breast rolls in an attractive pattern. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and rub it lightly to coat the chicken. Sprinkle moderately with salt and a little sumac or paprika. Roast about 18-20 minutes, uncovered, until chicken browns slightly. Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry.

This kind of dish is typically served with rice, such as a pilaf, accompanied by a yogurt sauce. (A simple sauce is yogurt beaten with a little water, salt, and paprika.) If desired, surround the roasted chicken with lemon slices and dust the chicken with a little chopped dill or parsley.

*Note: the other half of the package of thawed spinach, juice squeezed lightly out, can be turned into a simple dip for appetizers by chopping it in a food processor or blender, along with some yogurt and a small green onion (including white and most of the green parts) or a large slice of regular onion, then seasoning it all with salt and pepper to taste plus a little lemon juice. Dip or spread it on flat bread, sliced baguette or ciabatta, or on crackers.

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