Being away from my family living in California, it has gotten a bit easier with time and there are less and less tears over random moments, holidays, but one of the things I miss most is Sunday dinner as one a big family.
I grew up eating delicious home cooked Greek food. My family, they know their way around the kitchen. Everyone has their specialties and their things. My mom is an incredible baker, while not Greek herself she has mastered Greek desserts and pastries, baklava, koulourakia cookies. My dad is the king of savory, the grill master, the Greek God of souvlaki, marinated grilled leg of lamb, roasted potatoes among many other specialties. Sadly while my dad makes THE best lamb you’ll ever eat, neither he nor anyone else in our family has ever mastered homemade gyro. Whenever my parents serve up gyro, which isn’t super often, it usually comes already prepared and frozen. Meh. It makes me sad that we aren’t making it ourselves. Also sadly, these pre-made gyro meats tend to be very processed and they almost always contains gluten, so naturally I won’t touch them. Short of going to a more traditional shop, cart or restaurant, where they cook the meat traditionally over a spinning spit or rotisserie – it’s impossible to get the real thing, I haven’t had it in many, many years.
Traditional Greek gyro, from what I have read, is made with whole cuts of pork, slowly cooked rotisserie style, and thinly shaved, while Americanized Greek gyro is the pressed, almost sausage-like, thinly sliced minced beef and/or lamb blend. Usually served in a pita, wrap style it is a meal that I never get to eat, yet I still find myself craving it.
I am home in New York right now, with my family, visiting and meeting my brand new nephew Keaton James, born just three weeks ago. As I was preparing for this trip home to Buffalo, I got giddy at the thought of all the homemade Greek food I would be eating. Greek food is my comfort, it’s what I crave at the holidays, when I am homesick or when I come down with a bug. Greek food from a restaurant is just never the same and somehow making a big feast of Greek food at home, just the two of us, while I do it occasionally, it just never tastes the same to me. This is the food best served with a large group of the people you love most. A big Greek feast needs to come with a side of very loud chatter, tons of laughs, stories from back in the day and it needs kids running around the very same living room that my dad ran around as a little kid.
I will be making these gyro bowls for everyone this Sunday, for our big Sunday Family Fun Day. We will be celebrating my Dad’s birthday, my Mom’s retirement, my sister’s brand new baby and just being together! Now, if I could only learn how to transport myself home to New York every Sunday, for the day – I would have everything in the world, I could ever need.
The gyro meat, while not shaved from a big spinning rotisserie of spinning slow cooked meat, it totally has the same classic flavor and texture, without the hassle and with no additives. Rather than tucked into a warm pita (which I have yet to master gluten or grain-free, but don’t worry, I will), and served in a wrap, which would certainly be incredible, the gyro meat is the star of the show in these veggie loaded bowls.
I looked at many recipes and made this recipe a few times to get it to my liking, flavor and texture-wise. If you are into the science of cooking, this post was a huge help in me getting the gyro recipe to where I was happy. It talks about why salting and letting the meat sit is important, the role that the fat from the bacon plays and lots more. Geeky food time nerding out.
Gyro adapted from this recipe
- 1 pound grass-fed ground lamb (you can also use beef or a combo of beef and lamb)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram (or 1/2 teaspoon dried), roughly chopped (oregano will also work)
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 ounces sliced pasture-raised bacon, uncooked, cut into 1-inch pieces
For the Bowls:
- Tzatziki Sauce (see below)
- salad greens
cooked cauliflower rice, brown or white rice, quinoa or other grain
grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- red onion, thinly sliced
- high quality sheep’s milk feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
- kalamata olives, pitted
- lemon wedges
- fresh dill
Combine lamb, salt, pepper, marjoram and rosemary in medium bowl. Mix with hands until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Meanwhile, place the Greek yogurt in fine-mesh strainer lined with paper towels, set over small bowl. Allow the yogurt to drain in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300°F.
Process the onion in a food processor for 10 to 15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea towel or a few paper towels. Gather up the ends of the towel and tightly squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice.
Place the cold meat mixture into the bowl of food processor with the drained onion, garlic, and bacon. Process until a smooth paste is formed, about 1 minute total. Stop the processor to scrape down the sides with rubber spatula, as needed.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. With moist hands, form the meat mixture into rectangle about 1 1/2 inches high, about 9-inches long, and 4 to 5-inches wide. Bake until the center of the loaf reads 160°F on an instant read thermometer, about 30-40 minutes. While the loaf is baking, make the tzatziki sauce (recipe below). Once to temperature, allow the loaf to rest at room temperature for fifteen minutes.
Preheat the broiler to high. Slice loaf crosswise into 1/8th to 1/4-inch strips (each strip will be about 4 to 5-inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide). Lay the strips of gyro on the line baking sheet and broil directly under the broiler until the edges are browned and a little crispy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Fill your bowls with salad greens, top with cooked gyro meat, cauliflower rice or other grain, tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives, sprinkle freshly crumbled feta and fresh dill. Add as much tzatziki as you’d like, serve with a lemon wedge.
It is important that you salt your meat ahead of time, mix it thoroughly and let it sit at least an hour. This dissolves the proteins in the meat to create the proper texture.
The cooked loaf can be stored in the fridge, covered, for up to 5 days, before you slice and broil.
- 2 cups full fat greek yogurt (you can also use non-dairy yogurt)
- 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tablespoon fresh dill, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Once the yogurt has drained for at least one hour, discard the liquid. Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel or a bunch or sturdy paper towels and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium bowl, combine the drained yogurt, drained cucumber, garlic, fresh dill, lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir well. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. Serve on top of the gyro bowls. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.