Back to the Mediterranean


We visited Lebanon a couple weeks ago and now Greece returns us to the Mediterranean’s sunny shores.  As winter finally catches up to us, a land of lemons and sparkling waters seems a great place to be.  That definitely explains my recent culinary fixation, doesn’t it?

This week it’s souvlaki with tzatziki sauce, complete with homemade pita.  The chicken is marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and oregano, among other things, before being threaded on a skewer and grilled.  The flame intensifies the flavors while sealing in the juices, leaving the chicken succulent and tasty.

The tzatziki, laden with cucumber and mint, adds a touch of coolness that builds upon the bright notes the lemon and oregano reach.  Take some of the chicken, garnish with your choice of vegetables (mine were tomatoes and cucumber, thinly sliced), add a dollop or two of tzatziki sauce and wrap it all in a pita, still warm from the oven.  Sublime.  It’s much like a gyro, except lighter and even better, in my opinion.

Before leaving you, a word or two about the pitas.  This was my first attempt at making them from scratch, and the irregular shapes show just how much my dough-rolling skills need to improve.  The taste and texture were pleasing, quite worth the extra effort, but maybe next time the pitas will look a bit less like Greece’s rugged outline.

That’s not to disparage the pita recipe, which was great, coming from the New York Times, believe it or not.  As mentioned, the pitas were light and fluffy, definitely adding distinction to the meal.  Unlike my efforts with a rolling pin.

As for the souvlaki and the tzatziki,  their recipes were found on allrecipes.com.  No dough shaping was involved, so please, focus on them.

Opa!

*****

Chicken Souvlaki

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (*1)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (*2), cut into bite-sized pieces

Combine all the ingredients in a large resealable bag.  Squeeze out the excess air and seal the bag.  Refrigerate for two hours.

Thread the meat onto skewers, discarding the remaining marinade.  If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 15 minutes first, to prevent them from charring.

Cook the meat skewers on a preheated grill about eight minutes per side. (*3)

NOTES:

1 – If possible, squeeze your own lemon juice; you’ll be glad you did.

2 – I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead.  They’re only slightly fattier than breasts, but they are much moister and more flavorful.  Definitely worth it.

3 –   As the chicken was cooking I sprinkled on the grated zest of one lemon.  About two minutes before pulling the chicken from the grill I squeezed the lemon’s juice on the chicken as well.  This really woke the chicken’s flavor and made it zing.

*****

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 6-ounce container of Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated (*1)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 or 4 leaves fresh mint, finely chopped, or one tablespoon dried mint (*2)

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for two hours, to allow flavors to combine.

NOTES:

1 – I finely chopped the cucumber instead of grating it.  Just a matter of texture, but I think it’s better that way.

2 – The original recipe doesn’t include mint, but I think it an improvement.  Tzatziki recipes  elsewhere do call for mint, so making it without it would diminish it ever so slightly (in my opinion, of course).

*****

Homemade Pita Bread

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour (*1)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Make a sponge by adding the yeast and the sugar to one cup of lukewarm water.  Stir to dissolve.  Whisk in the whole-wheat flour and 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour.  Put the mixture in a warm (but not hot) place, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until it is frothy and bubbly.

Add the salt, olive oil and all but half a cup of the remaining flour, and stir until the mixture forms a shaggy mass.  Dust with a little of the reserved flour and turn dough onto a lightly-floured work surface.  Knead lightly for about three minutes.  Cover and let rest for ten minutes, then knead again for two more minutes.

Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap, then cover with a towel.  Put bowl in a warm (but not hot) place for about an hour, until dough has doubled in size.

Heat an oven to 475 degrees and place a heavy-duty cooking sheet or a baking stone (*2) on the lowest rack.  Punch down the dough and divide it into eight equal portions.  Form each portion into a little ball.  Cover and let sit for ten minutes.

Removing one dough ball at a time (while keeping the others covered), roll each into an eight-inch-diameter circle, about a eighth of an inch thick.

Place pitas directly on the baking sheet or stone.  After a minute, the dough will begin to puff.  Using a spatula or tongs, flip each pita and cook for another minute or so.  Pita should be pale with brown speckles.

NOTES:

1 – You may omit the whole-wheat flour and use instead a total of 2 and 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour, but the pita won’t be as flavorful.  The whole wheat adds an almost nutty profile.

2 – If you have one, I definitely would recommend using a baking (or “pizza”) stone, as it cooks breads much more evenly.

 

One thought on “Back to the Mediterranean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s