It's hard to argue with the success of the Mediterranean diet for improving health and reducing the risk of disease. Although the Mediterranean diet has a lot of variations, all of them focus heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oils, especially olive oil. This kind of diet has been shown to reduce heart disease and, more recently, the risk of strokes and ultimately, dementia.
Our Mediterranean Chicken Bake is packed with many of the classic elements of this health-boosting diet, including olives and artichokes. It uses lean chicken breasts-or fish fillets, if you prefer (see "Notes from Chef Jeannette")-and rich, excellent fats from olives and olive oil. It's easy to put together and makes a wonderful, complete meal consisting of a quality protein mixed with high-antioxidant vegetables such as tomatoes and spinach. Best of all, it's topped with feta, the classic Mediterranean cheese. And did I mention that it tastes great, too?
Mediterranean Chicken Bake
Featuring some of the most healthful and delicious ingredients found in the Mediterranean diet, this wholesome chicken bake is a pure crowd pleaser.
3 large fresh heirloom tomatoes, diced (or 2 cans, mostly drained)
1 6-oz. bag baby spinach
1 can or jar artichoke hearts in water, drained and coarsely chopped (about 6 oz., drained weight)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
½ cup unsulfured sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
2-3 Tbs. olive oil (use chicken broth or water to reduce calories)
2 large shallots, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1½ Tbs. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt, or to taste
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper, or to taste
6 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts*
½ cup crumbled feta cheese, optional
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 9- x 13-inch baking dish lightly with olive oil cooking spray, and set aside.
- Combine fresh tomatoes, spinach, artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, shallots, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper in bowl. Mix well, until spinach is slightly broken down. Transfer to baking dish.
- Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper to taste, and nestle into mix. Bake 35-45 minutes (start checking at 35 minutes for chicken doneness), remove from oven, and sprinkle with feta, if using.
PER SERVING: 318 cal; 34g pro; 12g total fat (2g sat fat); 18g carb; 91mg chol; 925mg sod; 5g fiber; 6g sugars
Notes from Chef Jeannette: If you want, you can try a few different kinds of protein in this dish. It works equally well with 4 or 6 bone-in chicken breasts, as long as they aren't overly large. You can also choose to substitute 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the breasts, if you want a richer flavor. Thighs cook more quickly than breasts, so check the dish at 20 minutes for chicken doneness and plan for about 30 minutes total baking time. For a leaner option, you can also use 4-6 white fish fillets-cook using the same time guidelines as for the thighs.
Jeannette Bessinger, CHHC, is a certified holistic health counselor and recipe developer. Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, is a nationally known health, nutrition, and weight-loss expert. Bessinger and Bowden have collaborated on numerous cookbooks, including their newest, The 150 Healthiest Slow Cooker Recipes. Visit them online at thecleanfoodcoach.com and jonnybowden.com.