Friday, January 22, 2010

More Winter Grilling: Lamb Pitas with Cucumber, Feta, and Mint Yogurt Sauce

You know that little hole-in-the-wall Greek place on the corner that serves the fantastic gyros?  The one with the great fried eggplant, the killer cucumber sauce, and the really long line at the counter? Yeah -- those gyros. The ones that are just a little too salty, a bit too greasy, but somehow positively perfect on one of those nights when you don't feel like cooking?

Yeah, well, these aren't those gyros.
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 no matter how you load up your sammich, you're bound to be saving some serious fast-food calories at the same time.

And who can really argue with that?

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  1. this is my absolute favorite meal. i need to make it more often.

  2. This recipe looks fantastic! Now if the rain ever stops I'll fire up my grill and give it a try!

  3. Looks great, as usual! I've made these with ground lamb, per a Cook's Illustrated recipe- and the flavor was there but not the texture. I'll be trying your version next time!

  4. This looks great. I love gyros but I've never made them, in fact never even thought about it. Love it and I'll be giving these a try.
    I did miss seeing the snowy grill pictures this post.

  5. Just another great reason to keep my grills from getting too cold this winter!!!! Even though my wife doesn't like lamb I'm going to try and slip it by her!

  6. Those do look so tasty! I bet they have a wonderful flavor

  7. Oh, boy! I haven't had a gyro in FOREVER. Growing up in NY I ate them quite often. Yours looks even better and holy cow that salad is right up my alley. I'd like an extra serving, please!

  8. These look delicious, and even sort of healthy. :) A great alternative to gyros from Grecian Delight on North Avenue, rip.

  9. Oh come on - these look better than the ones at the hole-in-the-wall! You did a great job since my mouth is watering for these at 11am on a Sunday morning. :)

  10. Mmmm....that's looking GOOD. The weather this weekend finally raised itself above zero for all of an afternoon, and I pleaded with Mike to break out the grill. He remains resistant until mid-March, which means that by the time spring comes I'm keening for a grill-up. Your gyros look perfect and delicious, as well as much healthier than what gets sliced off at the kebab shop!

  11. oh, ho, ho, now this is my kind of food!

  12. Oh my GOSH! That is one beautiful post. The photo series is wonderful. And your writing is as clever as ever! I have to remember to visit here more often. You're truly one of my favorites, even though you eat gluten cooties. I can always find something new and exciting here. Okay, I have to admit -- I'm not a lamb fan. BUT, this recipe looks worth trying and might change my mind. I think I don't like lamb because of a very early experience with greasy, salty gyros (I don't like them). Your version looks healthy, fresh and awesome and the grilling method perfect. Hmmm? You've convinced me. I'll try it!

  13. Yum! I love love love lamb. Anything greek inspired really.

  14. Oh now you've done it, got me wishing for some Greek food, thanks LO! Haven't had lamb in forever and your wonderful illustrations have me just drooling!

  15. That sounds delicious. I love lamb, and I have quite a few dishes that I make with it. But kabobs are my absolute favorite. And the marinated onions---yum. they go great with pickled herring too. :) though, we use regular white/yellow onions for that. But I'm sure it's great with red onions too.


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