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November, 2010

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken and Light Lemon Vinaigrette

By Heidi Allison

This refreshing, easy salad showcases the bold flavors of Greece, and works equally well served as a hearty meze (appetizer) or one-dish meal.

Greek oregano, which goes by the moniker rigani in Greece and Turkey, provides the signature flavor for this dish, imparting a spicy, slightly bitter and pungent base note. A member of the mint family, there are basically four types of culinary oregano—Origanuim vulgare gracile (used in Khirgizstian cuisine), Origanum vulgare hirtum (used in Italian cuisine possessing a sweet taste), Origanum vulgare onites (used in Greece, Turkey and Crete imparting an intensely pungent and slightly bitter taste) and Origanum vulgare syriacum (used in Syria and Lebanon with a taste similar to Greek oregano). While each cultivar has a different flavor profile that ranges from spicy, astringent and sweetly complex, this culinary and medicinal herb is not interchangeable with Mexican oregano— a cousin to lemon verbena.

What makes Greek oregano so unique is that it contains significantly higher concentrations of aromatic compounds, which produce a flavor profile that runs from spicy to almost tongue-numbing! And, this palate-bracing herb has different culinary applications as well: Greek oregano is almost always used in its dried form--crumbled over dishes as a finishing touch, or, added as a prep ingredient to both cooked and fresh dishes to impart savory depth.

But this magnificent herb brings more to the table than just great taste: researchers recently found that oregano contains hefty doses of antioxidants and phenols containing antibacterial properties effective against a tough strain of bacteria that is becoming immune to antibiotics, methicillin--resistant staphylcoccus aureus (MSRA), that is currently invading hospitals and nursing homes. These compounds had a higher effectiveness than 18 currently used drugs! It appears that the ancient culinary tradition of using oregano as a food preservative has merit.

In this recipe, the unique flavor of Greek oregano takes center stage—it acts as the perfect counterpoint flavor to the intense, garlicky taste of the chicken marinade (8 large cloves of garlic are used for 1 pound of chicken breast), and, is sprinkled over the finished dish right before serving. Another secret technique that ensures success in this dish: marinate the chicken for 24 hours, which acts like a brine to keep the lean breast meat moist while grilling. I tried this recipe several ways and found the meat was too oily when pan-seared, but perfect in taste and texture when grilled—a tough feat for lean chicken breast! The light lemon vinaigrette is virtually calorie and fat free— use 1/3 cup to dress the salad without guilt. This recipe can go to the table in less than 15 minutes if marinated overnight, making it your go-to meal for busy workdays!
Greek Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Bell Peppers, with a Light Lemon Vinaigrette
Greek Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Bell Peppers, with a Light Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves: 4 as an entrée; 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients:
1 pound skinless chicken breast tenders I large head iceberg lettuce
1 green bell pepper, ¼-inch dice
20 pitted Kalamata olives
½ large Spanish (red) onion, ¼-inch slice
8 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
16 grape tomatoes, cut in half Marinade
½ cup Greek olive oil
8 large cloves garlic, smashed and chopped (about 5 Tbsp.)
1 Tbs. Greek oregano
2 tsp. kosher flake salt
2 tsp. sweet paprika
½ tsp. Aleppo pepper flakes (can substitute crushed red pepper flakes)
1 ½ Tbsp. Greek yogurt

Light Lemon Vinaigrette

Juice of 2 lemons, (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup filtered water
½ tsp. kosher flake salt
1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
½ tsp. Greek olive oil

Preparation:

In a medium bowl, add olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt, paprika, Aleppo pepper and whisk until combined. Add yogurt and whisk again until combined. Pour half of marinade into a 9”x6” container, then add chicken and toss to coat. Place tenders in a single layer, then pour the remainder of the marinade over chicken. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Heat a portable, electric grill on high for 10 minutes until hot, then add half of the chicken tenders in a single layer making sure that they do not touch (you want the meat to grill—not steam). Cook until grill marks appear—about 2 minutes, then turn over with tongs and cook for additional 2 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and allow to cool. Repeat this process with the remainder of chicken tenders. Core and cut lettuce in quarters, then shred on a Japanese Beriner or mandolin vegetable slicer into a ¼-inch slice. Place shredded lettuce on salad plates in a flat layer; then add onion rings on the outside perimeter of lettuce. Sprinkle 2 oz. of feta cheese over lettuce and top with 4 oz. grilled chicken, 5 olives, 2 tablespoons of bell pepper, grape tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of parsley on each plate. In a medium bowl, add lemon juice, water, kosher salt, black pepper and olive oil. Whisk ingredients to combine. Drizzle ¼ cup of lemon vinaigrette over salad, sprinkle a bit of Greek oregano over the top then serve immediately.

Notes From the Author:

Double up the recipe for the chicken—makes a great chicken sandwich!