This meal takes its inspiration from my as of late favourite “revision-baguette” – roasted vegetables with pesto mayonnaise. Not content with eating this combination for lunch, I have created a dinner version to satisfy my cravings for all things Mediterranean!
I began to develop the recipe firstly by substituting the bread. Beans, grains and pastas are common to Mediterranean cuisine, but I was most drawn to rice as a carbohydrate component because it is one that isn’t often used. Rice, for me, is usually left as a traditional accompaniment to meals such as curry or chili con carne, and thus I felt that it would be a welcome change to my reliance upon pasta!
In choosing to add meat to this dish, I was torn between chicken or lamb. I felt that lamb with fresh herbs would complement the vegetables and pesto excellently, and would make it a fuller meal. Although this dish is packed with vegetables, alone it would be more welcome as part of a summer salad than a main meal. Looking into Mediterranean meats, I found that there was an emphasis on poultry and fish. Choosing between the two, I opted for chicken breast because of their ready availability and value for money. However, in making this again I would be more likely to choose fish; Mediterranean cuisine stemming from an amalgamation of the cultures of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea, it is easy to see why fish is staple. The ready availability of fresh fish makes seafood an important part of their diet, and thus it would perhaps be more authentic to stick to the traditions of the Mediterranean. In cooking the fish, seasoning before grilling, frying or placing in foil in the oven until tender would be preferable – leaving the primary focus on the vegetables and the flavoursome rice. However, this is not to say that fish outweighs chicken in suitability – the chicken is seasoned and sauteed, leaving tender strips of poultry which complement but do not overpower the taste of the rice; it simply provides another element to the dish.
The diet of the Mediterranean is well known for its health benefits – the combination of fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and lean meats is acclaimed as both nutritional and beneficial to the individual. The vegetables in this dish are typically Mediterranean, and the amount of them makes this an incredibly healthy meal! However, the addition of aubergine could be made to the courgettes, peppers and tomatoes; the assortment of fresh colours and flavours when sauteed would only welcome aubergine, another traditionally Mediterranean component. Although in most vegetable tray bakes fresh herbs, such as oregano or thyme are used, I felt that pesto would be more appropriate for this dish because of the rice. The flavour of the basil permeates the rice and complements the vegetables, whilst providing a sauce to prevent dryness. Whilst fresh herbs would give excellent flavour, in mixing the rice and vegetables there would be no sauce – a problem solved by pesto! However, this means this recipe could also be used for sauteed Mediterranean vegetables, as well as the rice…two birds, one stone.
- 1 chicken breast per person, cut into thick strips
- Roughly 1 handful of rice per person
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- ½ courgette, cut into thick chunks and then quartered
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into squares
- 1 tablespoon of pesto
- Olive oil
- Boil salted water in a pan, and add the rice. Boil until tender.
- Whilst the rice is boiling, heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Place the chicken strips and peppers in the pan, and fry until beginning to brown.
- Season the chicken with pepper, and ensure turning with regularity to ensure even browning.
- As the chicken is browning on both sides, add the courgettes. Turn the heat down to low, and allow the vegetables to wilt. Add the cherry tomatoes and allow to soften. Stir consistently to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan as it wilts.
- When the rice is tender, drain and return to the pan. Add the pesto, and stir thoroughly to coat the rice in the sauce.
- Transfer the courgettes, peppers and cherry tomatoes to the rice and stir. Place the rice over a low heat, until warmed through.
- Arrange the chicken on the plate, and add the rice when it is warmed through. Season, and serve. Enjoy!