Orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, checks all the (hash)DinnerInMinutes boxes for me. It's quick-cooking, inexpensive, versatile and deliciously slip-sliding on the tongue. This way to deploy it is my new favorite. Inspired by Turkish flavors and such ingredients as cinnamon, fruity dried red pepper and cheery, chewy dried apricots, the dish tastes just as good hot as it does for a next-day lunch of cold leftovers.
This is one of the few times I recommend reaching for a bunch of curly parsley rather than the flat-leaf kind; you'll get more of a textural benefit.
Not to worry about the cinnamon - the spice adds a background note and does not skew sweet. And although unsulphured dried apricots may pack more oomph than the orange kind used here, which are treated with sulphur dioxide to preserve their color and extend their shelf life, they make the dish look as good as it tastes.
Lemon and apricot cinnamon chicken
Serve with a green salad.
Adapted from "Turkish Delights: Stunning Regional Recipes from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea" (Kyle, 2016).
1 cup dried orzo pasta
6 to 8 stems curly parsley
2 or 3 stems fresh dill
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper (may substitute a fruity/mild ground red pepper or sweet paprika), plus more for optional garnish
1 medium onion
2/3 cup dried apricots
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Heaping 1/3 cup blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Fill a deep saucepan with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; add a good pinch of the salt and the orzo. Cook according to the package directions.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop the parsley and dill fronds (both to taste; reserve the stems for stock, if desired). Cut the chicken crosswise into bite-size strips/planks.
Drain the orzo, reserving 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, then return to the pan. Stir in the butter and a generous pinch of salt, then the fresh herbs and Aleppo pepper.
Cut the onion into small dice. Coarsely chop the apricots, or cut them into 1/4-inch slices.
Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, so it loses its raw look; the pieces may not all be cooked through. Add the onion and almonds; cook for about 6 minutes, stirring a few times, until the onion has softened and the chicken is cooked through.
While the chicken mixture is cooking, cut the lemons in half and squeeze their juice.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the lemon juice, cinnamon, black pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and continue to cook for a minute or so. Add the cornstarch, stirring until slightly thickened.
Add the orzo mixture to the skillet, stirring gently to incorporate. Once it has warmed through, stir in the apricots and remove from the heat.
Serve warm, drizzled with a little oil and sprinkled with a final pinch or two of salt and more of the Aleppo pepper, if desired.
Per serving: 580 calories, 39 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 790 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar