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~ My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas ~

IMG_9864When it comes to street food, it's almost impossible to walk past any vendor selling gyros.  My first gyro encounters were limited to the Jersey Shore in the latter 1960's and '70's and Mr. Krinos (a friend of my cousin and no relation to the famous Krinos brand of Greek products sold in stores everywhere) explained they were, Greek-style, in that they were a combo of beef and lamb wrapped in a pocketless pita with lettuce, tomato and onion, and, served with a cucumber-yogurt-based tzatziki sauce (save the fried potatoes and mustard for souvlaki pork kabobs).

484200809_oGyro (YEE-roh) making.  It's a fascinating process to watch.  The men (I've never witnessed a woman doing it) grill the conical-shaped pressed and stacked pre-spiced meat pieces on a vertical rotisserie (formerly charcoal, nowadays an electric infrared broiler).  If the meat is not fatty enough, pieces of fat are layered throughout to insure that the meat remains crisp and moist. As the outside of the stack of meat cooks, they shave thin strips from the sides and throw them onto a flat grill to quickly sear them prior to portioning onto pita and serving.  

As much as I love gyros, I won't lie, duplicating the process in my home kitchen never occurred to me.

That changed back in 2010 when I read an article posted on the Serious Eats website in their Food Lab.  Written by J. Kenjil López-Alt, it detailed a very workable, not-to-mention genius, home-kitchen method and included a recipe too.  While I didn't use or adapt the recipe, I did adopt the method.  To make a long article short, the meats and spices are mixed in the food processor (like a meatloaf mixture) then shaped into a loaf and baked in a foil packet, to prevent it from browning.  (I prefer to bake mine in mini-loaf pans and that is the only method change I made.)  Once cooled and refrigerated, the loaf is sliced into thin strips and put under the broiler to reheat and crisp up.  They are the best faux gyros to come out of the home kitchen.

The best faux gyros ever to come out of the home kitchen!

IMG_9865Part One:  Processing, Baking, Slicing & Grilling the Meat

IMG_9785 IMG_9790 IMG_9792You will need a food processor, but past that, making the meat mixture is straightforward and quite simple.  If you can't find ground lamb in your grocery store (which happens to me occasionally), purchase a boneless lamb roast, cut 1 pound of it, untrimmed (leave the fat on), into 3/4" cubes and place it in the food processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, grind it.  While you're at it, grind the rest of the roast too.  Portion and freeze, and, you'll have ground lamb on hand any time you need it.

IMG_9797For the ground beef and lamb mixture:

1  pound lean ground beef (90/10), or, 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1  pound lean ground lamb (90/10), or, 1/2 pound lean ground lamb

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)

6  large garlic cloves (1 ounce)

1  tablespoon dried marjoram leaves

1  tablesoon dried rosemary leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_9600Step 1.  In traditional recipes, the onion and garlic are grated on a box grater and then the juices are strained out through a cheesecloth. In my kitchen, the food processor and a few paper towels make very short work of this task.  

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)

6  large garlic cloves (1 ounce)

IMG_9604IMG_9602In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade  place the chopped onion and whole garlic cloves.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a puree.  

Transfer the vegetables to a paper-towel-lined plate, gather up the paper towels and by squeezing  IMG_9612IMG_9610                                            package, allow them to absorb as much moisture as they can. Replace the paper towels and repeat this process two more times.

IMG_9616You will have 3/4 cup of almost totally moisture-free grated onion and garlic.

IMG_9801 IMG_9798~ Step 2. Place the ground meats, onion and garlic mixture, marjoram, rosemary, salt and pepper back into the work bowl of the food processor.  Using a series of 40-45 rapid on-off pulses, thoroughly combine.  You will have 2 1/2 pounds of a pasty, meatloaf-esque mixture.

Remove meat from processor, and, using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide it into four equal portions of 10 ounces each.

IMG_9807~ Step 3.  Place each portion in each of 4, 5"L x 2 1/2"W x 2"D, mini-loaf pans, and, using your fingertips, pat and press them flat.

~ Step 4.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 325 IMG_9808degree oven until, using an instant-read meat thermometer, the centers reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.  Remove from oven. Using a fork to hold each loaf in place, drain and discard the juices IMG_9811out of each pan and place all the pans on a rack to cool, in pans, about 10-15 minutes.

~ Step 5.  Remove the "meatloaves" from the pans, return them to the rack and allow them the time they need to cool to room IMG_9814temperature, about 1 hour.  Wrap each in foil and refrigerate for 2-4 hours or overnight.  It's important that when slicing the loaves into strips the strips stay intact, not crumble -- refrigeration accomplishes this.

Note:  While the meat is in the refrigerator, prepare the tzatziki, and, prep and assemble the accompaniments, as directed below.  When both of these tasks are finished, ready and waiting:

IMG_9828 IMG_9831~ Step 6. Remove the meatloaves from the refrigerator. While they are cold, slice each one, lengthwise (holding the knife straight up and down and parallel to the longest side of the loaf), into thin, 1/8"-thick (and absolutely not thicker than 1/4" thick), pieces.  You should get 12-13 slices per loaf.  If you do not, the slices are too thick.  

IMG_9835Arrange the sliced meat, side-by-side in a single layer and not overlapping, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with aluminum foil and parchment paper.

IMG_9838~ Step 7.  Preheat the broiler and position oven rack to within 3" underneath the heating elements.  

Place the baking pan of meat in the oven and broil until the edges are brown and crispy, about 3-3 1/2 minutes.  These were in for 3 1/2 minutes.  Remove from oven and assemble gyros immediately, as pictured throughout recipe.

Part Two:  Making the Tzatziki

IMG_9733A bit about tzatziki (dzah-DZEE-kee):  Tzatziki is a creamy condiment made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  While mostly associated with Greek cuisine, versions of it exist in Iraq, Cyprus and Turkey too.  This simple-to-make sauce tastes best made a few hours or a day ahead and it's served cold in a variety of ways -- as an appetizer with vegetables and pita chips, as a accompaniment to main course meat and fish dishes with rustic bread, or classically as a topping for gyros  and souvlaki.

IMG_9762For the tzatziki:

16  ounces (1 pint/2 cups) plain, whole-milk Greek-style yogurt

1  large (13-14-ounce or larger) hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and very small diced

4-6  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1-2 tablespoons minced, fresh dill leaves, as few stems as possible

1  tablespoon high-quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon red wine vinegar

freshly-ground salt and pepper 

IMG_9747Step 1.  An important step to making tzatziki is making sure the yogurt and cucumber are free of excess moisture.  Many strain the yogurt in cheesecloth overnight. Now that high-quality, whole milk, Greek-style yogurt is available to me everywhere, I skip the cheesecloth, put it in a fine mesh strainer and let it sit for just an hour.

IMG_9741Step 2.  Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise.  Using a melon baller, remove seeds. Slice each half into 8 long strips and finely-dice strips into 1/8"-1/4" bits.  

IMG_9612Step 3. Bundle the cucumber up in a some paper towels and squeeze to remove as much moisture as  IMG_9753possible.  Set aside, to continue to drain, until yogurt is ready.  Run garlic through a press and allow it to drain on a bed of paper towels too.

Step 4.  Place yogurt, cucumber and garlic in a medium bowl.  Add EVOO and vinegar.  Stir.  Season w/salt and pepper to taste (I use 15 grinds of salt and 30 grinds of pepper).  Stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.

Part Three:  Assembling the Gyros  

A gyro, like most other sandwiches, starts with bread, and, in Greece that would be pita. Occasionally you will see a Greek-American gyro served in a pita pocket, but, in Greece, this beloved sandwich is served on pocketless, Mediterranean pita.  After the bread,  if lettuce is going on, the torn leaves are used as a bed for the meat.  Not a fan of lettuce?  No problem.  Just pile the meat in on top of the bread.  After that, unless a "hold" is placed on the sandwich order, expect a gyro to come with thinly-sliced tomatoes and red onion placed on top of the meat (no feta cheese on a gyro please), and tzatziki drizzled over the top or served to the side.

IMG_9822For the accompaniments (per sandwich -- pictured here is what I need for lunch today):

1  Mediterranean pocketless pita bread, warmed

1/2  cup torn or shredded  lettuce lettuce leaves

6  slices shaved gyro meat, from above recipe

4-6  thin slices tomato (I use one Campari tomato per sandwich.)

1/8-1/4  cup thinly-sliced and chopped red onion (I like a lot of onion on my gyro.)

1/4  cup tsatziki, from above recipe

Top w/zatziki & don't think about the mess -- just: open wide!

IMG_9875My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas:  Recipe yields enough meat for 8 gyros and 2 1/2 cups of tzatziki.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; paper towels; 4, 5"L x 2 1/2"W x 2"D, mini-loaf pans; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack; aluminum foil; cutting board; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; melon baller; paring knife; garlic press; large spoon; 1-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019aff64b0c3970dCook's Note:  For another classic Greek recipe, this one given to me by my close Greek girlfriend, Jeanne Cocolin, just click into Categories 2 or 13 for ~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~.  It's silky smooth, hearty and full of lemon flavor!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 


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