Friday, August 15, 2014

Chicken Gyros

Last Year's Post: Grilled Shrimp and Corn Salad
Two Years Ago:  Gazpacho

It's late summer, which means the farmers markets (not to mention your garden) are bursting with fresh produce.  This recipe uses cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and lettuce, which makes it perfect for this time of the year.

Greek food is fresh, vibrant and usually pretty good for you.  Gyros (pronounced yeer-ohs) refers to a popular type of Greek meat that's thin-sliced off a giant spit and usually served as a sandwich with pita bread, yogurt sauce and cucumber.  Since most people don't have a giant spit handy, grilled chicken is typically substituted in recipes.  Chicken Gyros recipes often suffer from two major problems - dry, chewy, tasteless chicken, and leaky, cracking pita pockets. (Supermarket pita pockets are one of my all-time pet peeves to be filed under Never Buy Again Unless You Need to Punish Yourself.)  This recipe solves both problems and has the added bonus of using roast chicken from your local store (or your own leftover chicken), which makes it a very fast and easy meal to serve any night of the week.

The tzatziki sauce can be made at the same time you're making the rest of the meal, although it benefits from at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.  It could also be made up to a day in advance.  The moist roast chicken is shredded and bathed in a light coating of garlic herb oil, which is also used to brush the bread before heating and lightly browning.  Finally, the cucumber salsa includes bright notes of tomato, red onion, Feta cheese, parsley and mint.  Iceberg lettuce adds the most crunch, although you could substitute sliced Romaine if you want.

I found the world's cutest cherry tomatoes at the farmer's market called "Tiny Tims" for obvious reasons.  Too cute for words.  You could also certainly use regular cherry tomatoes, or sliced or chopped regular tomatoes from your garden.  These were so tiny I left them whole.  And they were really sweet!

Back to the question of bread.  If you can find really fresh pocketless pita bread in your town, that's great.  Try the local Middle Eastern markets - they're an excellent source and a fun adventure.  Naan bread is an Indian/Asian flatbread very similar to pita bread (readily available in supermarket delis) that also works well.  Any other flatbread such as the "Flat Out" brand would work, and even flour tortillas would work in a pinch although they're less authentic.  The key is to make sure whatever flatbread you use is soft and foldable, although you could also serve the gyros open-faced with a knife and fork. I used naan bread and cut each one in half (they're big) for four individual sandwiches.

The recipe calls for dried oregano and rosemary, but you could certainly use fresh if you have some on hand. A good rule of thumb is to use approximately twice as much of a fresh chopped herb as called for dried.  I adapted this recipe from two others, and I'm genuinely pleased with the results.  In particular, the garlic herb oil, moist shredded chicken, and bright cucumber salsa make it the best chicken gyros recipe I've had.  I hope you like it too!

printable version
Chicken Gyros with Cucumber Salsa and Tzatziki
Serves 4

1 English cucumber, cut in half (or 2 Kirby cucumbers)
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
5 garlic cloves, minced, divided
Salt and pepper
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 small red onion, halved and chopped
1/2 cup crumbled Feta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 rounded teaspoon dried oregano
1 rounded teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 (8-ounce) package naan bread (2 breads) or 4 (8-inch) pocketless pita rounds
2 cups roast chicken, shredded
4 cups iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges, for serving

Peel and grate ½ cucumber, then squeeze it in a towel to remove excess water. Stir together with yogurt, lemon juice, and one third of garlic.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate tzatziki for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend (preferable but not necessary if you’re pressed for time).

Preheat broiler.

Cut remaining cucumber into 1/4-inch pieces and stir together with tomatoes, onion, Feta, 1 tablespoon olive oil, vinegar, parsley, and mint to make salsa.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Gently simmer ¼ cup oil, oregano, rosemary, remaining garlic, and salt and pepper in a small heavy saucepan until garlic is fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes (or microwave on low power for 30-60 seconds). Toss chicken with 3 tablespoons garlic oil and brush one side of bread with remainder.

Heat bread, oiled side up, in a 4-sided sheet pan, covered with foil, 3 to 4 inches from broiler 3 minutes. Uncover and broil, rotating bread for even coloring, until golden in spots, about 2 minutes.  Cut naan bread into half.

Spread some of tzatziki on warm bread and top with lettuce, chicken and salsa.  Fold in half.  Serve lemon wedges and remaining lettuce, salsa, and tzatziki on the side.

Note: Tzatziki can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.

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