Gyros From Scratch

Today, I bring you a break from your regularly scheduled business and cultural snark to present you with one of my other favorite hobbies: Cooking

As you might be able to tell from my stories, I love to cook. Cooking is responsible for many of the relationships I have had throughout my life (guys, take the hint: being a good cook will get you laid), and is the basis for many long-running friendships. Since everybody eats, it’s a more stable basis for friendship than silly things like politics, religion, family ties, or mutual devotion to Star Trek (though don’t underestimate Star Trek’s ability to cement a friendship between strangers. That’s a topic for another time).

This recipe is the first I’ve ever posted, and as with many other things in life the blame belongs entirely with Gail Carriger, with whom I regularly compare cuisines and who asked me for the recipes contained herein.

These Gyros differ from the stuff you get in the restaurants in a few important respects:
1) It uses sliced meat instead of shaved sausage
2) It’s kinder on your breath, as it has fewer raw onions
3) It has other veggies besides just the onions and tomatoes
4) You can make everything (including the bread and yogurt sauce) from scratch in about half an hour.

Gyros from Scratch

The Meat
First, get a fertile ewe…well, maybe not that much from scratch.

So, let’s assume the lamb or sheep or goat has been butchered and you have a nice healthy hank of the leg (lamb and mutton work best. Beef tends to be too bland, and goat tends to be too chewy and tastes too much like the way a locker room smells when you spice it this way). So stick with animals that you can make a decent sweater out of, and have somebody–a neighborhood butcher, a factory in New Zealand, or your buddy the hunter–turn it into a roast.

Take about a pound of it and slice it up thin, as if you were slicing beef for fajitas, or even thinner than that. You want a big pile of little ribbons of meat. Trim off all the excess fat, keep that for making soap later (or, if you’re not into making soap, use it as part of a gore bag in that independent slasher movie you’re working on).

While you’re playing with deadly weapons, go ahead and use that knife to demolish a clove or two of garlic and either 2 shallots or half a white onion, and stick those on the meat pile. To top it off, chop a hank of fresh mint to a fine powder (enough to make a third of a cup should do the trick).

Now that you’ve done all that slicing and dicing, put everything into a large bowl and drizzle it thoroughly with balsamic vinegar and olive oil at a ratio of about 1:3, then squeeze a half lemon in, then liberally sprinkle black pepper and salt. Now, hand-mix the whole gloopy mess and let it sit at room temperature to marinate while you prep everything else. The longer you marinate, the more tender and tasty meat at the other end. I find that an hour is about ideal, but half an hour is still pretty good good.

Now, while the beast is marinating, it’s time to move on to the salsa.

Salsa
Using a clean knife and cutting board, dice 3 Roma tomatoes (or the equivalent volume of heirloom/beefsteak tomatoes), one hank of mint (roughly the same size as the amount you used for the meat), the other half of the onion or a couple more shallots, a clove of garlic, and a med. sized cucumber. Combine in a bowl, and add salt, pepper, the other half of the lemon, and a teeny bit of vinegar. Let it sit and sweat down while you make the bread.

Bread
This is my all-purpose flat bread recipe. Like everything else here, it’s a cook’s recipe rather than a baker’s recipe, so you’ll have to practice it to get it right, but it is heavenly.

The secret to an excellent pan-fried flatbread is the texture. You want something light, but with plenty of structural integrity. To this end, I use two kinds of flour: Masa flour and Bread flour, though you can get away with using all-purpose if you’re willing to accept more breakage in your bread.

Take a big mixing bowl, put about two cups of hot water in it (I say “about” because I always just eyeball it).

Add to the water:
1 shake of baking powder (equivalent to about 2tsp, I think)
1 drizzle of olive oil (maybe a tbsp)
1 small pat of butter (important for getting the texture right, otherwise I’d just use olive oil)
A few shakes of salt
a few shakes of pepper

Now, start adding in the masa flour, stirring as you do. Once you’ve built it up about to the consistency of a thin batter, retire the masa and start with the bread flour. Continue mixing flour in until you achieve a texture somewhat drier than cookie dough but slightly wetter than pizza dough.

The Sauce
For the cream sauce that is popular on all things Greek-ish, stir a half cup of plain yogurt together with a tablespoon of minced mint leaves, add a dash of lemon juice, one or two shakes of salt, and four shakes of pepper.

Cooking
Warm two pans (I prefer cast iron, cause they’re glorious for really hot cooking).

When the pans are hot, throw the meat in one of them and stir it occasionally–you want to sear it but not burn it. Once it’s seared, turn the heat down and let it simmer in its own juices, which will sweat off as it cooks. Take it off the heat when the juice reaches the consistency of a glaze.

While that’s cooking, assuming your pans are properly seasoned and/or you have nonstick (if you don’t, you’ll need a teeny bit of oil), take a hunk of your bread dough a little larger than a donut hole, then, working it in your hands (you’ll want to dip your hands in flour first), roll it and pat it out until it’s about the size of the bottom of a tea cup. Now, throw it in the pan and continue patting it out with your fingertips until it’s about as big as a taco-sized tortilla. When it’s about half cooked, flip it over. When it’s fully cooked, take it off the heat and repeat the process with the next hunk of dough.

Note: The pan is HOT, so don’t burn your fingertips. The bread will insulate you as long as you don’t stay in contact for too long in any one location.

Serving
When all is said and cooked, set up an assembly line: flatbread at one end, then meat, then salsa, then a bowl of crumbled feta cheese, then your yogurt sauce. Assemble as you would a taco.

A tip: The salsa is REALLY good, and tends to be popular. If you’re serving more than two people, consider doubling or tripling the recipe. People tend to load up on it.


The above recipe feeds 4 very comfortably. Goes well with cider, iced tea, beer (I’m told), and red wine. The Hungarian wine Bull’s Blood is my favorite accompaniment, as it’s bright and lively and an excellent compliment to the minty Greekness of the lamb.

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And there you have it–an excellent spring or summer dinner, right in the dead of winter. Enjoy!

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One Comment

  1. Interesting recipe. I personally like my meat spicy, but I think I’ll give this mellower version a try. Never would have thought of using balsamic vinegar. Thanks, Dan.

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