- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What is it about men and the grill? I’ve never met one who didn’t love just about anything cooked over hot coals.

It seemed logical, then, in preparation for Father’s Day, to cull my files for something special seared over an open fire. When I found the recipe for grilled lemon chicken with tomato and olive rice, I knew I had an answer.

The dish is colorful, vibrantly flavored and so simple that young children can don aprons and help out with the cooking.

A blending of fresh lemon juice and olive oil seasoned with garlic and bay leaves is used to marinate plump boneless chicken breasts for a couple of hours.

The marinade takes no time at all to assemble, and the chicken needs only about 10 minutes total on a hot grill.



The rice, which is equally delicious served warm or at room temperature, is multilayered in taste. While hot, it is tossed with a duo of cheeses, including feta and Parmesan. Then kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and generous amounts of fresh dill and parsley are swirled in.

Part of the success of this recipe depends on first-rate ingredients. For example, I like to use natural chicken breasts, which I find have better flavor and texture, and I prefer the slightly nutty Indian basmati rice for the accompaniment.

Sweet grape tomatoes (sweeter than cherry) are ideal to counter the salty accents of the olives and cheese. When it comes to cheese, the king of Parmesans — Parmigiano-Reggiano — will yield the best results.

Add some tender green beans or corn on the cob as side dishes. And, to end the celebration, offer a blueberry crisp or vanilla ice cream sundaes topped with fresh strawberries and mint as dessert.

This menu should please even the pickiest dads.

Grilled lemon chicken breasts with Mediterranean rice

CHICKEN:

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 to 7 ounces each, tenders removed), preferably natural poultry if possible

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to brush grill

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 bay leaves, broken in half

4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

4 lemon wedges for garnish

MEDITERRANEAN RICE:

3 cups cooked basmati rice, warm (see note)

1/3 cup crumbled feta

1/3 cup grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

12 grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise

8 pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise

1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

Place the chicken in a shallow, nonreactive dish. In a small bowl, stir the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper together.

Add the bay leaves and garlic and pour over the chicken.

Cover and refrigerate, 2 to 3 hours, turning several times.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the rice. Place warm cooked rice in a large mixing bowl and stir in the feta and Parmesan cheeses. The Parmesan will melt and be absorbed easily, while the feta will remain somewhat crumbled.

Stir in the dill and parsley, then add the tomatoes, olives and lemon juice and mix well. Taste and season with salt as needed.

Serve rice slightly warm or at room temperature. (The rice can be prepared 1 hour ahead; leave at room temperature.)

When ready to grill chicken, oil a grill rack and arrange 4 to 5 inches from heat source. When grill is ready, remove chicken from marinade.

Grill until chicken springs back when touched with your fingers and juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a paring knife, 4 to 5 minutes per side or longer. Watch carefully as cooking time varies with type of grill used and intensity of heat.

Top each chicken breast with a lemon wedge and serve with Mediterranean rice. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the chicken before eating. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Cook basmati rice according to package directions. About 1 cup uncooked basmati rice should yield 3 cups cooked, but check your package to confirm the amount needed.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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