September Staples-Chicken Tapenade Salad

Something tells me you haven’t recently dreamed about creating a chicken eggplant salad and, I have to tell you, I haven’t either. ‘Til the other day, that is. I had in mind a Greek salad of some sort because I thought I had cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, etc and figured I’d throw in the aging eggplant sitting in my frig. Best laid plans. Also known as Alyce plans; God laughs. There was no cucumber and it was nigh on to dinner time. There were boneless chicken thighs and leftover tapenade. What to do? The idea for a warm salad began to come together and the idea of including spinach and rice moved in.
The bare bones beginning of fall is starting in the Front Range. “The air smells differently,” said my come to lunch piano student (also a professional gardener.) A few trees here and there have some turned leaves and the day doesn’t hold the heat long any more. Plants still growing look tired, “Am I still here; isn’t it time to do something else yet?” Rain, wind. Autumn wreaths are beginning to appear on the doors and fences in the neighborhood. So while salad is still sounding yummy, warm rice and chicken sound just as good. How to combine them?
Grab, cook, figure……….. Eyes narrowing, lips pursing. Nose wrinkling in thought. Right. Who’ll eat this if it’s no good? And, worse, the local pizza delivery we frequent just closed. Not because we didn’t spend plenty of money there, often opting for salmon or a grilled veggie wrap. (Bye bye Rotelli’s; we’ll miss you!)
What else is in the frig? This is, after all, September Staples and time to clean out and prepare for the “year” ahead as summer wanes. Ok, already saw tapenade and, while there’s no basil in the frig, there’s basil in the pot on the deck, still growing despite the cool wind. Onions and garlic on the counter: always good with eggplant.
Start the rice first; it takes longest. You can figure the rest out as you go. Then, out comes a saute pan; out comes another. This will be done more quickly with two. Get the onions and garlic going; add the eggplant.
Chop the thighs, brown them nicely.
The dish is starting to form a picture for eyes and tastebuds. Get out a great big platter… always a good idea for something attractive. Line it with spinach. And so on. Here’s the recipe, written after the dish was not only on the table, but nearly eaten whole by two very hungry people. While it appears complicated, it came together in twenty-five minutes while the rice cooked.
Now the thing that made things interesting was cooking around the big guy below (pic taken another day)

Rocket Man loves the kitchen. Are all dogs like this? He doesn’t mind the mess of a galley.

Chicken Tapenade Salad (aka Cooking with Dogs)
Serves 4
1 c Basmati rice (or any rice you have)
2 c water
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
5 T olive oil, divided
6 chicken thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, diced
1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces (sub zucchini??)
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 c fresh spinach
1/2 c cherry tomatoes
1/4 c chopped fresh basil, divided
1/2 lemon
1/2 c tapenade* (see below for info or just chop kalamata olives instead)
In 2 qt covered pot, bring 2 cups water and 1 c rice to boil; season well with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cook until almost tender. At 6,500 feet, this would be 25 minutes or a tad more. Probably 20 minutes for the rest of you.
When rice is nearly tender, add 2T chopped basil and set aside, covered.
While rice cooks, saute onion in 2T olive oil for five minutes; add eggplant. Cook until both are gently soft, about 10 minutes more. Add 1 clove garlic and salt and pepper well.
After vegetables are cooking up, heat another skillet with 2T olive oil and add chopped chicken thighs. Salt and pepper them well. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, adding another garlic clove after initial browning. When nicely browned and cooked through, remove from heat.
Scatter spinach around edge of large platter (14″ or more). Mound rice in center. On top of rice, spoon first the eggplant mixture and then the chicken thighs. Scatter remaining basil over all and spoon tapenade on a line in the middle of the chicken. Dot the rice with the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with remaining 1T olive oil and squeeze lemon over all. Dust with salt and pepper. Serve warm, room temperature or cold within a day or two. If extra tapenade, serve with crackers on side.
*You can buy tapenade (chopped olives, garlic, anchovies sometimes and olive oil) at most groceries or you can make your own. Great on crackers or crostini and wonderful as an omelette topping. To make your own:
Throw all these things in the food processor and whirrrrrrrrr:
1 c pitted kalamata olives
2 anchovies
2 minced cloves of garlic
2 T olive oil
3 T minced fresh parsley
optional: splash wine vinegar, teense of red pepper flakes
A tapenade story: Some years we give a Christmas wine and cheese party. One year, not long ago, we did this and I, at the last minute, added a huge bowl of this tapenade, surrounded by whole wheat crackers. It was the first thing to disappear, though a country pate was the most talked-about dish. You know how a lot of people “don’t like olives?” Those people weren’t there, I guess.
Wine: Drink rose while you can. I like all kinds, but Tavel (French) is my current fave.
Dessert: Oh, my friends, the Colorado peaches are still here…. Slice some up with a little Greek yogurt and drizzle with best honey. (Apples on way.)
Enjoy the cool wind coming as you eat this hearty, but healthy salad.
Sing a new song,

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