Tranquil and Frenetic

Imagine yourself on a donkey, climbing a precarious rocky cliff on a Grecian isle, watching chips of rock and pebble fall to the cerulean seas below. You’re nervous yet exhilarated, torn between watching each step of the donkey’s four hooves on the narrow path and gazing…

Tranquil and Frenetic

Imagine yourself on a donkey, climbing a precarious rocky cliff on a Grecian isle, watching chips of rock and pebble fall to the cerulean seas below. You’re nervous yet exhilarated, torn between watching each step of the donkey’s four hooves on the narrow path and gazing at the stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea, the islands in the distance, and clusters of crisply whitewashed homes.

Then imagine yourself in a steamy diner in New York, where tables are full and thick plates clang on countertops as the waitstaff deftly and efficiently serves a lunch crowd. In one corner, next to a lit display of confections, sits a tray of honied baklava, the amber syrup dripping through the layers of fillo dough.

Two corners of the world, one tranquil and the other frenetic, separated by an ocean but brought together by the food of their shared Mediterranean ancestry. The Greek and the Greek-American. The original and the interpreted. But each authentic in its own way.

I love the flavors in Greek food, and the influence that comes from this part of the Mediterranean. There is an emphasis on fresh simplicity, good olive oil, and balancing savory meats with the freshness of the earth’s bounty. I crave the Greek-American food I grew up on from the restaurants in New York, especially the enclave of Greek-Americans in Astoria. Yet, I have never attempted to cook Greek food, and I’m not certain why.

Perhaps it is because the cuisine has not been covered adequately in American cookbooks until just recently, or because I am wary to cook lamb for fear I would be the only one to eat it in my house, or because I lack a vivacious and cuddly Greek grandmother to teach me the secrets behind a good moussaka.

It’s been years since I’ve visited Greece, and what I crave most often from the Astoria restaurants is the humble gyro. Pronounced “yee-roh,” gyros are those plump sandwiches of pita tucked with meat thinly shaved from spinning towers of rotisseried lamb and dressed with a tangy yogurt sauce, Tzatziki, fresh tomatoes and onions. I decided, enough is enough, I’m making my own Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce.

Since I don’t have a Greek grandmother, I started by scouring the current cookbooks. I looked at The Food and Wine of Greece and The Foods of the Greek Islands, to name a few, but it was not until I examined How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis that I finally encountered a gyro recipe. And believe it or not, trusty Alton Brown had a great recipe, as well.

I started with the Tzatziki sauce. It was a wonderful excuse to dust off the mandoline.

Some Tzaziki sauces call for diced cucumbers, but I liked the elegant and thin cucumber wafers. It allows more room for other goodies in the sandwich. The most critical aspect when making the sauce is to squeeze out all excess liquid – from the yogurt, from the cucumber – anything that might make the sauce runny must be eliminated.

As I worked through the recipe, I realized Greek cuisine is no different from California cuisine. The climate is similar, and of course, it’s all about using the simplest, freshest ingredients.

Now for the good stuff. The meat. There were critical decisions to be made. The traditional Greek gyro is made from towers of thinly sliced and stacked pork, although you can find varieties made with chicken or in doner kabab style with ground lamb and beef. Greek-American gyros, on the other hand, tend to be made with ground lamb and beef, essentially in a meatloaf style, but still on a vertical rotisserie. So, do I go Greek? Or Greek-American?

I decided to go with the Greek diner flavors found in New York – Greek-American, all the way. But it wasn’t going to be easy. Cooking a meatloaf on a rotisserie is tricky business. Of course, it would have been perfectly acceptable to bake the meat in a loaf pan in the oven, but that doesn’t seem as exciting, does it?

As the rotisserie worked its magic, whiffs of seasoned lamb began to drift across the yard. It was a familiar scent, with much promise. But I was rather anxious as it cooked – the meat threatened to fall off the rotisserie, and I was almost doubtful that the flavor would hold up to their inspiration. It wasn’t until I took the slices and folded it into a pillowy pita coated with the garlicky Tzatziki sauce that I was able to relax. With each bite, my tense shoulders slowly lowered, and I was calmed. I could taste the Mediterranean with each bite.

Sincerest thanks to all who voted for my first entry to Project Food Blog!! This post is my submission for Challenge 2: The Classics. Contestants were asked to select an ethnic classic that is outside our comfort zone or are not as familiar with, and to tackle the recipe as authentically as possible. Voting for this challenge takes place from 6AM Pacific Time (9AM Eastern) September 27th through 6PM Pacific Time (9PM Eastern) September 30th. If you like what you see, please consider clicking here to vote (click on the heart at the top of the page!).

Gyro

Adapted from Alton Brown and All Recipes

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Using the shredding attachment of a food processor, shred the onion. Place the onion in a cheesecloth and squeeze out the liquid. Return the onion to the bowl of the food processor. Add the lamb and the seasonings, process until very well incorporated.

On two pieces of plastic sheet that are overlapping, form a very tight loaf with the ground lamb mixture. Roll it tightly and allow to chill overnight in the refrigerator. A tightly rolled loaf is critical if using the rotisserie.

Skewer the loaf on the rotisserie and cook for at about 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alternatively, you can bake it in a water bath in the oven for about an hour at 350 degrees. Check it periodically and drain any excess fat.

Slice the meat thinly and serve on pita with Tzatziki sauce, thinly shaved onions and tomatoes.

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 17 oz good quality plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Place the yogurt into a cheesecloth or tea towel, gather up the edges and suspend it over a bowl in the refrigerator for 2 hours. After two hours, squeeze the excess liquid.

Place the slices of cucumber into a cheesecloth and gently squeeze out any liquid.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and allow the sauce to develop its flavors in the refrigerator while you prepare the meat.




Comments

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  1. Jenny Nguyen

    Who said gyros are just for drunken Friday night snacks?! This is very delicious and healthy looking. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Jean

    Gosh, I can’t remember when I last had a gyro, or made tzatziki. I’m so impressed (but not surprised) that you would successfully create this kind of magic in your kitchen. I like your cucumber wafer idea instead of shredding them. Well done again. In fact, I’ll head on over to FBZ to vote now. :-)

    Reply
  3. LimeCake

    the first time i ever had a gyro was at the los altos farmers market. i was hooked. this looks delicious!

    Reply
  4. Lilia

    OMG. I’ve never had such a craving for gyros! Your photos have definitely worked their magic and you totally went all out for this challenge! Roasting the lamb on the rotisserie is so hardcore and absolutely ingenious =D

    Reply
  5. Adelina

    Love Gyros and great that you actually used the rotisserie in making the lamb! Best of luck to you!

    Reply
  6. Baking Barrister

    Sometimes I forget how amazing greek food is. It really hasn’t made its force known in CA. I’m really glad you went Greek-American—it looks so insanely delicious. I never realized the sauce was that easy to make either!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you, Mardi! Oh, I do need the luck, and I thank you for your wishes!

      Reply
  7. Cristina

    Beautifully done, Liren. You’ve inspired me to try my hand at gyros too. Your Tzaziki sauce looks perfectly creamy. An excellent entry for round two of PFB!

    Reply
  8. Evan @swEEts

    Great photos! Looks delicious.. I’m impressed with the rotiserrie! My boyfriend was over my should saying “we need one of those!” Good luck in the rest of the challenges :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Evan! Rotisserie’s are such a boy thing, aren’t they? But I have to admit, I love playing with it, too!

      Reply
  9. Sophia Lee

    Wow. All the posts I’ve read so far has been amazing, and this is no exception. Making your own gyros! Wouldn’t that be nice if I could do one in my own kitchen…I love gyros!

    Reply
  10. Becky

    I’ve never made gyros at home either. It’s great that you stepped out of your comfort zone to make such a wonderful dish, all without a Greek Grandmother. Congrats to moving to Round 2 and beyond!

    Reply
  11. Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet }

    Gyros are one of my FAVORITE things! I order them when ever I can. I am so impressed that you made the meat on your grill – outstanding. Gyros remind me of my trip to Greece several years ago – it is just beautiful! Good luck on this challenge – you have my vote!

    Reply
  12. Monet

    I adore Greek food…and I wish I had a Greek grandmother to impart all of her secrets! Thankfully I have you! I have never made gyros before…despite enjoying them many, many times. I’m so glad you made it to round 2! I look forward to voting for you on Monday!

    Reply
  13. CarolineAdobo

    Oh my, you did it! You finally made gyro in your rotisserie grill! I still remember our conversation about this over at Twitter LOL. I’m kinda miffed that I wasn’t invited. ;) Glad you posted this, gave me the courage to do it myself.

    Reply
  14. Kelsey{itsybitsyfoodies}

    Beautiful job, Liren. The gyro looks delicious. And good choice to cook it on the rotisserie. I’ve tried doner kebabs at home and the rotisserie definitely makes a difference…it’s just not the same baking the meat loaf in the pan!

    Reply
  15. Liz

    Wow! I’m impressed. I’d try a lot of things, but this would intimidate me! It looks wonderful, I wish I had taste-o-vision.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Forget taste-o-vision, Liz, you’ll just have to come try this in person!

      Reply
  16. Susi

    AMAZING!!! I love, love, love Greek food and Gyros is one of our favorites to make. You should advance to the next round based on your pictures alone which are making me drool all over myself! Simply stunning! Best of luck to you :o)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thanks Susi! I would love to shadow you and see how you make your version of a Gyro one day! So glad you loved my photos!

      Reply
  17. fooddreamer

    Wow, I don’t own a rotisserie but if I did, I might make this just as you did! I am saving this post so I can vote for you in the next round of PFB!

    Reply
  18. Sharlene (Wheels and Lollipops)

    I love dishes like this, the most simplest of sandwiches but with the utmost care and respect for the ingredients it elevates itself into another dimension. Bravo !! This is a dish that my hubby and I enjoy but like you I’ve never thought about recreating it. You make it look easy, so maybe one of these days I’ll surprise the hubby with it.

    Reply
    • Liren

      I have a whole new respect for the gyro! Something seemingly so simple actually was a little stressful! But now that I’ve tackled it, I can’t wait to explore more Greek specialties! Hope you and your husband make gyros soon – have fun!

      Reply
  19. Jun Belen

    Lovely photos Liren and well-written post! Love the cucumber and onion slices and of course the gorgeous gyro! Well done. Some day I’d love to go to Greece and Crete! Someday!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Oh yes, Jun, you must go to Greece! I didn’t make it to Crete, so that means I need to plan a return trip one day :)

      Reply
  20. Jan/Thella @ I Love. Therefore, I Cook.

    wow. wow. my love for Greek food started with gyros and it has expanded to kotopoulo lemonato and others. this is truly a refreshing addition to all the classics i’m seeing and as always, i will never get tired of voting for someone as deserving as you :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Jan, I think I’m hooked. I don’t know why I was so intimidated by Greek cookery! Perhaps it was some of the ingredients? You would think that growing up on Filipino food, nothing could be intimidating, right? LOL. Can’t wait to experiment more! And *thank you* for your wonderful support!

      Reply
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