This casserole was inspired by Avgolemeno, the classic Greek chicken soup with rice and lemon. It's often served as a first course in Greek restaurants, and it's so good that it often outshines the main course. Don’t be fooled by the short ingredient list, this simple dish is clean and bright, yet satisfying. You can serve this as an appetizer, but at home I prefer to pair it with a Greek salad and pita for a satisfying meal. Honestly, I often don't even bother with the salad.
Avgolemeno gets its creamy texture from eggs whisked into the warm broth, this casserole replicates the custardy texture with starch from the rice and a dollop of cream cheese. It’s important not to rinse the rice, as the starchy dust is essential for creamy consistency.
Preheat oven to 350°. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a dutch oven, or cast iron skillet, over medium heat. Toss chicken with salt and add to the pan. Brown on both sides (about 4 minutes each) then remove to a plate.
Add the remaining olive oil to the pan along with carrots and celery and cook until softened, 5 minutes. Return meat to the pan along with broth, lemon juice and zest, rice and cream cheese, or place all ingredients into a 3-quart casserole dish. Stir to combine.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove lid, sprinkle on feta and cook an additional 10 minutes, until top is browned and bubbling.
Pro tip: For a bolder Greek flavor, stir in 1/4 cup of chopped Kalamata olives before baking.