Monday, September 29, 2008

The Greek Gyro


A couple of weeks ago Chris and I took a little day trip to the Greek Island, Kastelorizo. It was a perfect day with one exception; no Greek Gyro. The entire week before I had been drooling over the thought of a gyro. The problem was that most places don't start up their rotisseries until after 3pm and that's when we had to catch our ferry back to Turkey. Well, I couldn't let it go - I just had to have a gyro; even if it meant making it myself!

Kastelorizo Harbor
Kastelorizo, Greece.

The Arabic shawarma and Mexican tacos al pastor are similar to gyros and they are all derived from the Turkish döner kebab. The short explanation is a kind of meat (pork, lamb, or chicken) slowly roasted on a rotisserie. In Greece the gyro is usually served in fresh pita bread stuffed with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce, and sometimes french fries. has a good explanation on how the layers of meat are spiced and skewered onto the rotisserie. They are delicious. For years I have been saying to Chris, "I can't wait until we get to Greece and can have real Gyros!" (my last visit being in 2001).

Before I get into the recipe - a quick word on the pronunciation of gyro. I think you will find that in America (including many Greek restaurants) most people pronounce gyro as JYE-roe or GEE-roh. However, the more accurate Greek pronunciation is closer to YEE-roe (with no real distinguishable G or J sound). Just something to keep in mind should you actually travel to Greece. The truly accurate pronunciation is quite difficult for Americans as the word is spelled with an initial gamma ('jiros), which is generally pronounced as a palatal glide before the front vowels (or more simply put a very soft G) - which most Americans (including myself) can't imitate.

I think you'll find this recipe makes pretty tasty Gyros, but if you've ever had an authentic one you'll know that there is no substitute for the rotisserie (but hey, sometimes you've got to compromise). I've included a recipe for pita bread and tzatziki sauce; both of which you can also buy in most grocery stores (if you're looking for a quick & easy dish). This is also a great make-ahead dish. When I made it for our friends I got everything chopped up and ready to go the morning of and when they arrived all I had to do was throw the skewers on the BBQ and warm up the pitas.

2 lbs lamb, cut into small, thin cubes *
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp fresh oregano
2 large red onions, cut into thinly sliced rings
3 tomatoes, chopped
6-8 pita bread rounds (recipe below or store bought)
Tzatziki sauce (recipe below or store bought)

It is best to marinate the lamb overnight - this really helps tenderize it and soaks in the flavor. Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. Set aside 1/4 cup of the marinade. Mix the lamb with the remaining marinade and refrigerate overnight (refrigerate reserved marinade separately).

It is best to marinate the onions for a few hours (overnight cause the onions to start and break down). Combine the reserved marinade with the sliced onions and refrigerate several hours. Occasionally stir (or shake) to mix well. Before serving lift onions out of the marinade with a slotted spoon.

Thread lamb onto skewers and grill about 10 minutes (turning & basting often) or until lamb is nicely browned on the outside but slightly pink inside. * I like to chop my lamb pretty thin; just large enough to get it onto a skewer. This makes it closer to an authentic gyro where they fill the pita with slices of meat.

Marinating Lamb Lamb Skewers

Serve cooked meat with onions, tomatoes, tzatziki and warm pita breads. I like to serve it buffet or family-style; letting each person fill their own pita with desired amount of meat and condiments.

Homemade Gyros

Makes about 6-8 Gyros

2 cucumbers
400g (14oz) Greek-sytle (thick) plain yogurt *
3 garlic cloves, minced (more to taste)
3 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Cut the cucumbers in half and scoop out the seeds (discard). Leave the skins on and coarsley grate the cucumbers. Place into a small colander and sprinkle with salt; leave to drain for 15 minutes.
Tzatziki Step 1

Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl until well combined.

Rinse the cucumber under cold water and, in small handfuls, squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine the cucumber with the yogurt mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I find it's good to let this sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving so that the flavors blend (it will keep in the refrigerator for 2-4 days), however it can be served immediately. Garnish with additional mint.

* If you are unable to find a thick yogurt, you can strain regular yogurt through a cheesecloth. Spoon yogurt into a cheesecloth and tie edges with string. Suspend over a bowl or place in a colander and let stand to drain for several hours. The moisture will drip from the yogurt.

Makes 2 cups

Pita Bread
5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 pkg (~ 2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast *
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

In a large bowl mix 4 cups of flour with salt.

* If you are using a rapid-rise yeast you can mix it directly with the dry ingredients and then stir in hot water (~130 F) and oil. If you are using an active dry yeast (not instant) then add the yeast to 1 cup of warm water (~ 100-115 F) with the sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until foamy, and then add to the dry ingredients with the remaining water and oil.

Stir in enough of the remaining 1 cup of flour to make a soft dough. Turn out to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place in a large clean bowl, cover loosely with lightly oiled clear wrap and leave to rise, for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Knock back the dough. On a lightly floured surface divide dough into 12 pieces and shape into smooth balls. Cover loosely and let rest 5 minutes. Roll out each ball; either into ovals or round circles - approximately 6-8 inches (long or diameter pending desired shape) and 1/4 inch thick.

Place on a floured dish towel (or surface), cover and leave to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Lightly sprinkle un-greased baking sheets with cornmeal. Place pitas on sheets and cook 4-6 minutes, or until puffed up; they do not need to be browned. You can cook the pitas in batches, but be sure that the oven has reached the recommended temperature before the pita breads are baked (this ensures that they puff up).

Best served warm. If making ahead of time, place stacks into foil and heat on the BBQ (or oven) just before serving.

Makes 12 pita

Welcome to My Galley, where you'll find an array of recipes and food bits. Having traveled to 23 countries in the last five years I lean towards Intl cuisines, but you'll find a few home-town favorites as well.
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