Athina's Chicken

Before this past May, I didn't know very much about modern Greece. Obviously I'd learned about it's incredible history, I'd read the myths, I'd enjoyed meals at the occasional Greek restaurant. That was pretty much it.   And yet, I was drawn to it. I wanted to go. My mental image of the country, patched together with snippets from travel articles in my old issues of Gourmet and the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's Carey, conjured up a romantic notion in my mind. Turquoise water, warm nights, bright stars... Greece sounded enchanting.

And how. Lisa and I decided to go together in May. We spent most of our time in Rhodes, one of the Dodocenase Islands. It was a splendid place! It's laden with all sorts of exciting and insanely fresh food.
Seafood plucked directly from the sea, lemons as big as my hand, and fragrant green olive oil as far as the eye could see. Restaurants were constantly surprising us with free treats as well; semolina honey cake, ditalini pasta with lentils and tomato, hot fluffy pita bread, even carafes of white wine.

We were in the
country for ten days and as magnificent as it was, it wasn't nearly enough time. I think to really see the country, one would need to travel for ten years. Let's take the islands, since I unfortunately didn't go anywhere in the mainland. According to Wikipedia, there are 6,000 Greek Islands, out of which  227 are inhabited. Madness! 

Rhodes was a great place, but what really made our visit special was our amazing Couchsurfing host, Athina. A native Greek who moved to Rhodes in her early thirties, Athina was one of the best people I met while traveling. She's funny, smart, and incredibly generous. She was not only a perfect host, but she even suggested for us to go to Nissyros, a tiny nearby island, and set us up with friends of hers when we arrived! (More on Nissyros in another, future post.) We stayed in her beautiful home, tucked into the labryinth-like streets of the "old town".
Athina was working a lot when we came, but she still found time to teach Lisa and I how to play the hand drum, bring us out for delicious meals, introduce us to her friends, and most important, sit around her living room with us, laughing over stories, and glasses of red wine or café frappé. 
I did a food interview with Athina and it was great. We talked for over an hour and I learned a lot about Greek cuisine and cooking.  It's a very simple and healthy cuisine, with clear flavors of fresh ingredients. As she put it, "You can taste the flavor of a tomato when you eat a tomato." I loved that.  She also gave me lots of recipes. I intend to try all of them, and will write about them, but let's start with this one. It has all the hallmarks of traditional Greek cuisine; It's simple, easy, and tastes fantastic. This is also excellent the next day, maybe even better. The tomato and chicken flavor each other so nicely, and the cinnamon adds a lovely depth.

Athina's Chicken with Tomatoes 
Okay, I know it's not the prettiest dish. Try it anyway.
Athina didn't specify measurements, so if you feel like fiddling around with it, be my guest, I also added the oregano for fun. Don't be tempted to cut the onions instead of grating them! Not only is it easier on your eyes to grate them, but it changes the structure of the dish. The onions practically melt into the background, giving you a creamy sauce! Also, I used canned tomatoes, but if you live somewhere warm where you can get fresh tomatoes that taste of something, by all means, go ahead. I haven't tried it with fresh, but if you do, let me know how it turns out!

1 chicken, cut into parts
Olive oil
2 onions
1 big glass of white wine (you can use vinegar instead, but use much less) 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp Greek oregano 
28 oz can chopped tomatoes 

In a large braising pan, heat enough olive oil to fully coat the bottom. Grate the onions directly into the pan and add the chicken. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and oregano. Cook the chicken, turning once or twice, until it is white, but not cooked through. 
Add the wine and cook for four or five minutes. Add the tomatoes and around a cup of water- not too much! Bring to a boil and lightly season once again.
Let everything cook for while. Stir sometimes by lightly shaking the pan. The sauce will become creamy and delicious and the chicken will be crazily tender. It could very well be the best chicken recipe I have.

This dish is wonderful with orzo and a simple salad.

Enjoy, friends. And as always, let me know if you make it!

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