Saturday January 9, 2021
It’s the weekend and it’s time to talk about food. Since most of us haven’t had the chance or opportunity to go dine out and enjoy, imbibe and break bread with their brethen in a sit-down / dine in type sitting, many people have been trying to duplicate this by creating at home experiences whether it be grilling in, specialty dishes and homeware, creating a romantic atmosphere or baking their own version of banana bread, there has never been a better time to learn how to improve your culinary art skills. So polish off your cutting utensils, clean that cutting board, put on your apron and let’s get cooking.
Today we will explore how to create a good Greek dish that is flavorful and actually quite simple to make with a little time and investment and preparation. I often have someone tell me they why I take the time to slice and dice and put in so much prep time to create these dishes when it might be quicker and more inexpensive to just go out and buy the food already prepped and cooked and ready to eat. True I have found for quite a bit less it’s easier to often buy food prepped elsewhere or straight from a restaurant, but cooking is an ancient skill and art that is important to learn. Doing it yourself gives you deeper respect of what you’re putting in your body and helps you understand the ingredients and also how food is constructed. You’re probably feel more gratitude and have fresher food when you cook it yourself thereby retaining nutrients and having better tasting food often than buying it elsewhere depending on what you’re wanting to consume.
So we’re going to make a Greek gyro plate. There’s usually two components to a Greek gyro that I could see: the gyro meat portion and the tzatziki part. The gyro portion we will do next. But we will start first with the tzatziki sauce part first.
Tzatziki sauce is usually a creamy tangy yogurt based sauce which has been made for hundreds of years. Here’s how I’ve made it recently after experimenting a few handful of times, maybe eight or so times.
The best yogurt should have a bit of fat to it for flavor. You can probably use greek strained yogurt that is made from cow milk. It’s thick and has for the most part already been strained for you. The yogurt should be completely plain. I’ve tried making the yogurt with a sweetened yogurt once but found the sweet base really distracted from the flavor and gave my sandwiches too much of a candied flavor. Plain yogurt is the only way to go for me.
Now there are sheep’s milk yogurt which you can get at your local market often, it’s slightly runnier than Greek yogurt, but I found to get really delicious flavor, goat milk yogurt is really the only way to get that flavorful yogurt I crave from a Greek meal. Unfortunately it is a bit expensive. They sell it in a big container and it costs about $8. For that much of a price, you probably could go and buy you a gyro at the store. But for our purpose I was dead set on making my meal and went and bought this. (Note: for this particular article we used a Fage brand 2% Greek yogurt for our photos, but I assure you the goat milk yogurt has a delicious flavor that makes all the difference).
Next, I’m going to list the basic ingredients you will need to get for this meal and relative prices.
Tzatziki shopping list:
Really if you want the simplest tzatziki you just need yogurt and dill or yogurt with the cucumber and /or dill and the salt and spices.
- A plain yogurt. You can find 0%, 2%, 5% fat or other kinds sometimes. Not almond or vanilla, just plain. I got a 17.6 oz for 2% milkfat strained Greek Yogurt at $3.19
- A bunch of fresh dill, probably at least enough to fill a cup or that you can fit in a fist. $1.29
- Cucumbers, the private selection ones at your local Kroger that are for snacking and relatively seedless are the best – $1.79
- A container with mint leaves – About $1.99
- Garlic up to three cloves, or you can find pre-peeled garlic that are vacuum sealed in individual bags. Fresh is the only way to go. – Around $1.29 I believe
- 1 yellow lemon – $1.29
- 1 Red onion but you only need about 1/4th of it- 75 cents
- 1 bunch of green onion – 50 cents
- Spices such as:
- Black pepper
- Possibly olive oil if it’s around.
- Cutting board or flat surface
- Sharp knife
- Storage container like a big empty glass pickle jar with screw on lid
I found that a simple sharp knife is all you need but you could also get the following to save some time:
- Shredder/ grater
- Garlic Press
- Cheese cloth or paper towel or coffee filter
- Possible a empty plate or spoon
Tips for flavor
- Red wine vinegar can be helpful or juice from kalamata olives
- A bit of left over pickle juice that only has white vinegar but not the bread and butter kind.
Here’s what I like to do:
First off I usually wash up my dishes and cutting board and utensils before and dry them. Then I also wash up the veggies as I go. Then I chop up the vegetables such as cucumber as finely as I can with a knife. You can also use a finer grater to shred this into a strainer sitting on top of a round pan so it catches juices. The cucumber juice you could drink, but keep the diced cucumber. Most people say to drain the cucumbers for less liquid to separate and I usually agree, but if you’re trying to use most of the food without any of it going to waste you could put it in there because you’ll just get to eat it any way.
So first dice the cucumbers. The private selection cucumbers are the best and I usually just use one small cucumber. Although you might try 1.5 to small cucumbers.
Instead I prefer more dill and have put in almost a cup and a half of dill before and it turned out really well. When you slice up the dill it will get finer and finer and less mass and you can fit it in a small space. Next I dice up the green onion and add about two or three layers of red onion just to give it a bit of color and kick. Careful! Even a small amount of onion can make your eyes watery! Save the rest of the red onion to for use as a topping for the gyro up next. Chop up about 4 leaves of mint. Next I finely chop the garlic. You could use the minced ones or a garlic press but sometimes I just chop it up with a knife and it’s fresher that way. Then I sometimes will find an older pickle jar that has some unused pickle juice with the seeds and seasoning and bits and scoop up just a tiny amount and add about a teaspoon of the white vinegar to give my sauce a bit of acidity and tang and also add some flavor. Then comes the best part of adding it to the glass jar carefully. Next I add about a spoon of black pepper, salt and cayenne. I add about a container of the yogurt, or if you have a large container of goat yogurt I only add half the container or almost to the brim of the container.
Finally a good large squeeze of lemon juice that’s almost a tablespoon or more. I find I like my sauce really tangy. And sometimes more cayenne too. Season to taste. I cap the lid and shake and mix with a spoon as necessary. Some people use some olive oil also. I find that it doesn’t need much and maybe a drop or too of it is fine and mixed with some juice from a kalamata olive container sometimes can do it up in a pinch.
Now you remember I mentioned above that you might have a cheese cloth or strainer or a grater. If you have more time you could grate the cucumber very fine over a strainer, drain the juice, add the salt and let it marinate with the cucumber juice only to draw out the water content and then pour out the left over liquid. And then you put the cucumber pulp in cheese cloth or coffee filter and squeeze out as much liquid with your hands then tranfer to the mostly dry cucumber to a jar. The cucumbers are usually the ingredient you would consider doing that as the other ingredients are mostly dry already.
In the glass jar you’re going to make sure to shake! Shake it well!. If you use the goat yogurt you could strain a bit of liquid out, but it can be messy and I tend to want to eat a good bit of the left over yogurt stuck to the pan as it’s just that good. Also a con of using more tools means more clean up and bits stuck to pans. That’s why if pressed for time just use a knife and a jar and cutting board.
Make sure to really shake and stir all the bits so it blends together, open it up and do a quick taste with a spoon to see if there’s enough salt or tang or pepper. If so then close and let it marinate and sit overnight. The vegetables will soften more and salt and spices really penetrate and permeate into the entire mix.
Total time is about 1 hour if doing the complex way but can be as quick as 20-30 minutes including clean up time.
I did the yogurt part on night one and got my gyro meat ready for night two.
Next for the gyro part of the meal, you will need these ingredients:
- A bag of pita – $1.99 for 12 oz
- One container of tomatoes – Got some Roma tomatoes at 16 oz for $2.25
- One more larger cucumber – $.59
- Possibly some thinly shredded lettuce maybe .49
- A white onion – $.69 probably
- Some type of ground meat up to two pounds. In normal cases they recommend ground beef and lamb. But they unfortunately were out of lamb at the grocer’s that night shockingly so I decided to just use two packages of plant based imitation meat for my experiment. But you probably could use pork or other ground up ingredients to pretty good effect. In my case I used a Beyond Meat Plant-Based Ground Beyond Beef for 16 oz for $9.99 and a Simple Truth Emerge Plant Based Meatless Burgers for somewhere around $6.99 also I believe. I noticed most of these products have saturated fat almost equal or to a large extent close to real meat so be careful. There might be leaner products out there but if you’re eating lamb meat it already is a bit fatty as well.
- Next you’re gonna need a lot of spices and this and the meat is probably the most expensive part of the meal.
- Marjoram – .35 oz $2.69 (Private Selection Marjoram Leaves)
- Thyme – 1.25 oz $6.99 (McCormick Gourmet Organic Ground Shaker)
- Cumin – 1.72 oz $3.86 (Private Selection Ground Cumin)
- Oregano – .6 oz $3.99 (Spice Islands Oregano)
- Rosemary – 1 oz $4.89 (McCormick Gourmet Organic Crushed)
- You may also want:
- Black pepper
- A knife
- A mixing bowl
- A toasting over or regular oven
- Foil possibly
- Bread pan
- Blender possibly.
Finely chop the onion as much as possible. A half onion is fine or you could use more if you really want. Pop into food processor for several minutes until it’s shredded super finely.
Next add the meat slowly. You could techniquely do this all in a mixing bowl with your hands which is what I’ve been doing most of the time. But I’ve yet to really give it a whirl (see what I did there?) using a blender. Add all the spices. And really blend everything.
Get a bread pan and grease or line with foil. Press mixture into pan. At this point, cover it and wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight to let all the spices permeate. Or at least 2 hours minimum.
Bake at 325F for about an hour. I find that I usually need to bake it a bit more than the recommended 45 minutes usually and just to get the right look. For the plant based concoction they often make it with beet juice so I let it boil off as much of the juice as possible while still being firm and light brown to the touch. Sometimes you may have to switch to broil to brown the tops.
Let it cool and then slice into a thin cut. Sometimes you could lightly fry before putting it in the gyro is what I’ve heard some people do. But I think it is pretty tasty the way it is.
ASSEMBLE ALL THE GYRO!
Okay now that we have all the ingredients you will also need some a nice side dish. I recommend:
- A bag of frozen fries, who doesn’t like fries or chips with their meal.
- Some parsly to garnish the dish (optional)
Bake your fries and get your dish and assemble.
In this short you see two gyros stuffed with tomato, slices of cucumber, red onions, a dollop of tzatziki sauce. And to garnish, a slich of lemon, parsley, a bit of avocado, some sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, red radish and two kinds of fries: crinkle cut Ore Ida and Red Robin seasoned fries.
So as you can see, it is very simple to make a delicious home made meal, but it just takes time.
The gyro dish took about 30 minutes to prep and I let it sit overnight, then let it bake at low heat at around 1 hour and 30 minutes in a small toaster overn instead of a big oven. You could also possibly use a double boiler. I tried to use a home assembled double boiler of sorts by baking my pan above a pan of water he first time. It was okay. This time the imitation meat actual stuck together longer. Don’t cut into the loaf until it cools somewhat.
Assembling the plate took about 15 minutes and then I took a few pictures with my camera for show.
Okay now for the cost which is the bad news. The good news though is you can make quite a few different things and dishes with the ingredients. The bad news is it really is cheaper and quicker to buy the from a restaurant. But next time you go eat out perhaps you will be more humbled by how much assemble goes into making a yummy meal.
Time to add up the costs: Tzatziki is a bit around $11. That doesn’t include some of the costs of the spices and equipment which I assume you already have around the house. If you take out the costs of the spices which is about $22.42 it’s only about $22.99 or so for the gyro side else it’s about $45.41 for all of those. It doesn’t even include the cost of the utensils and plates and blender which I assume you already have. Then the fries are only about $2 or so. So you’re looking at $35 roughly. But don’t forget you could make several gyro meals with the cost of what you bought. After all you’re slicing off the gyro meat thinly and you have all that pita bread. The only thing is having to reheat the gyro and ensuring the tzatziki stays fresh.
Is it worth it? I think sometimes it’s nice to be able to treat a guest and have a special meal you can prepare in your back pocket? Would I want to do it all the time? Probably not because this is a good special meal for a special occasion and very rich too. So maybe once in a while I would do this.
Would I recommend you do this? Probably if only to give it a try and see what it’s like.
- While I recommending trying some other spice and herb combinations that you think might be better I’ve tried making the yogurt base with other concoctions. Like apple and cranberry and celery just to see what it tasted like. It was interesting but not really the right flavor. One time I wanted to try a celery in the tziziki but use two stalks and it ended up tasting really bad and a bit bitter and I didn’t really like it. I still ate it all as a learning experience since it was still edible food. Of the combinations so far the above seemed to work really well. You may have to adapt or adjust the recipe to taste, flavor, or presentation.
Bon Appetite and Enjoy and happy cooking.
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