Friday, January 22, 2010
More Winter Grilling: Lamb Pitas with Cucumber, Feta, and Mint Yogurt Sauce
However, I'm going to urge you to keep on reading. These lamb pitas take a little bit of fore-thought. And definitely require more effort than take-out. But, they're well worth it. In fact, if you're the sort who loves a good gyro (but who would prefer to avoid all the salt and nastiness that are included with the ones from the gyro stand), I'd encourage you to make these sandwiches. At least once. It's so easy you don't even need a recipe.
You do need a few basics -- a pound or two of fresh local lamb (we usually go for the meat from the leg) sliced into strips, a few sprigs of fresh mint, some fresh oregano, a bit of lemon juice, salt, and a nice flavorful olive oil. Mix the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil together. Then chop the herbs.
Spread the herbs over the strips of lamb, turning them to distribute the herbs evenly. Then, pour the lemon juice mixture over the top. Allow the meat to marinate for at least 2 hours. The trick with marinating the strips is to go long enough that the meat is seriously imbued with flavor -- but not so long that you're going to severely alter the meat's texture (lemon juice can be harsh that way). So, you probably don't need an all-night marinade here... but definitely give the lamb a bit of time to linger in the seasonings.
While the meat is marinating, you'll want to thinly slice a small red onion and sprinkle it with a bit of red wine vinegar. The vinegar takes a bit of the pungency out of the onions while imparting them with a nice vibrant kick. When you're done, these onions make a great addition to salads, sammiches, and the like (if you're me, you might even decide to eat them straight out of the bowl).
After you marinate your onions, you might also want to throw together a bit of yogurt sauce for your lamb pitas. Take a cup of greek-style yogurt (or regular whole milk yogurt that's been drained for a couple of hours through a coffee filter), add about 2 T red wine vinegar, 3 T chopped mint, and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir to combine. Then, go ahead and slice some cucumber.
You can also crumble some feta cheese. And, if it weren't the middle of January here in Wisconsin, you can be sure I'd suggest you slice up a few garden fresh tomatoes as well. But, honestly people, winter tomatoes scare me. So, we're not even going there.
Before you know it, it will be time to deal with the lamb again. Take the lamb strips and weave them onto skewers. Set them aside on a baking sheet until you've got your grill nice and preheated.
Then, place them on a hot grill -- preferably on an outdoor charcoal grill. Although you can place your kebabs under the broiler, or brown them up on a grill pan inside, I really love firing up a nice hot outdoor grill on a cold winter afternoon. The air temperature might be frigid, but the smell of that grill reminds me of warmer days -- and it tends to give my mood a bit of a boost.
Regardless of the method, direct heat is best here, since the thinly sliced lamb will cook quickly. You want the outside to sear nicely, while the inside remains tender. Aim for medium rare on the kebabs, since they'll cook a bit more even after you take them off the grill.
If there are two of you, one of you can grill while the other throws together a delicious salad -- romaine lettuce, some of those chopped cucumbers and marinated red onions, a few kalamata olives, and a bit of red wine vinaigrette with plenty of garlic and oregano. Top everything off with a few crumbles of feta cheese, just for good measure.
When the lamb is cooked and the salad is assembled, you can start putting together your gyros. Peef likes his loaded up with lamb, cucumbers, onions, tzatziki, and feta cheese... but you can make yours however you like. Any way you look at it, your sandwich will rival anything you can get at that greasy little gyro joint...
And who can really argue with that?
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