Anyone who thinks cinnamon should be exclusively used in sweet rolls, snicker doodles and apple pie is missing out on the delicious flavor created when cinnamon and tomatoes are mixed.
Naperville resident Yvonne Fawell knows this secret, courtesy of her Greek relatives.
She recalls visiting her Greek grandmother or Yiayia, and her Uncle Pete Demas who made Chicken Kapama, a stew-like chicken tomato dish seasoned with cinnamon.
“My Uncle Pete would make it on days when there were football games,” 59-year-old Fawell says. “We would eat it at halftime, and it was so good.”
Fawell’s grandparents came to America as teens and never returned. Her parents kept many Greek traditions but never visited Greece. When Fawell was in college, she participated in a study abroad program in France. Her parents came to visit her, and together, they visited Greece. They were able to connect with many relatives and celebrate their heritage.
Living in Europe for a year expanded Fawell’s appreciation for different flavors.
“I love southern French cooking,” she says.
She is always interested in trying new dishes because she knows there are so many things she has yet to experience.
“I took an Indian cooking class that transformed the way I use spices,” Fawell says.
The class moved her away from the restrictive use of measuring spoons and recipes, and encouraged her to sprinkle on numerous spices to experiment with new flavors.
Although she enjoys many varieties of food, Fawell loves the familiar flavors she grew up with in her Greek family, including Greek salad. Unlike some other salads where lettuce dominates the mix, Fawell says that the ratio in Greek salad should be half lettuce and half other ingredients, including red onion, cheese, tomatoes and cucumber.
A popular variety of Greek salad is a village salad that contains only cheese and vegetables and no lettuce.
She prefers to use the long, thin English cucumbers in her salads, because they have few seeds. She also selects a quality Greek feta instead of domestic feta because it is firmer and has a saltier flavor. The dressing for the salad should be a simple oil-and-vinegar mix.
The completed salad needs to stand for 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can blend.
Chicken Kapama has few ingredients and is simple to make, according to Fawell. The dish can be made with a variety of chicken parts, but Fawell usually uses legs and thighs.
“After browning the chicken, the skin can be removed if desired,” Fawell says. “That way, the flavor from the skin is in the dish but not the skin.”
The flavors in the dish improve when made a day in advance and reheated.
The cinnamon tomato sauce for the chicken dish also can be used for other dishes, Fawell says.
To make the sauce without the chicken, she sautés 3 tablespoons of garlic in 1/2 cup of butter until fragrant. She then adds the juice from a half lemon, four sticks of cinnamon and a 64-ounce can of tomato juice. The mixture is simmered uncovered for 60 minutes and is ready to use over green beans, rice or pasta.
Chicken Kapama is finished with a sprinkle of cheese. Fawell’s Yaiyai always used a mix of grated Greek kefalotyri and mizithra, but Parmesan also works well.
She invites others to discover the interesting flavors of cinnamon and tomato, as well as a Greek salad, by trying her family recipes.
Uncle Pete’s Chicken Kapama
5 to 6 pounds chicken legs and thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup butter
64 ounces tomato juice
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 sticks cinnamon
1 pound spaghetti
Grated Parmesan cheese or mix of mizithra and kefalotyri cheese
Squeeze lemon over chicken pieces and sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Melt butter in a large, deep skillet and place chicken in the pan. Sprinkle on remaining cinnamon and brown the chicken for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently. Remove chicken.
In the same pan, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomato juice and cinnamon sticks. Return chicken to the pan. Simmer uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes. When chicken is about finished, cook spaghetti according to package directions and drain. Serve chicken and sauce over spaghetti. Sprinkle cheese over top of each serving.
Assorted greens of choice (romaine, arugala, spinach)
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Feta cheese, crumbled
Red onion, sliced
Red wine vinegar
Depending on the number of servings desired, create a mix of half lettuce and half tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, onion and olives. Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar for dressing or 1-1/2 parts olive oil to 2 parts vinegar for a stronger flavor. Add oregano to taste. For a lemon-dressing variation, mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and juice of two small lemons. Add oregano to taste.