My Hero the Gyro | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

My Hero the Gyro

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My affair with the gyro sandwich (pronounced YEER-oh, not JI-roh) began as a small child. I remember my father taking me to a small family-owned storefront inside a shopping mall 30 miles outside of Chicago.

It was a hole-in-the-wall by every account—barely half a storefront, with just enough room for a griddle, a counter and a few booths lined up against the wall. I liked to watch the man behind the counter gracefully shave off long strips of ground meat with a large carving knife and arrange them down the center of a warm pita. He would then finish it off with tomatoes, onions, and a garlicky white sauce before wrapping the whole thing up in a piece of waxed paper and handing it over like a present.

I still indulge in a gyro when I visit my favorite Mediterranean restaurant. However, for those times in between dining out when I crave a sandwich, I have discovered that making gyros at home is not terribly difficult. I haven't gone so far as to install my own giant rotating spit (only because I haven't figured out the best angle to pitch that idea to my husband), so I substitute chicken for ground lamb.

Homemade pita bread is also something worth giving a try. It's pillow soft and slightly chewy, not at all like the dry, tasteless stuff you buy at the grocery store. I find it almost impossible not to tear at least one of my pitas into bite-sized pieces and use my tzatziki as a dipping sauce. I dare you not to indulge. As an added bonus, any leftover pita rounds can be cut into wedges, toasted and served with hummus for a delicious snack.

Homemade Pita Bread
Makes 8 pita rounds

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 to 1 cup more, as needed
1 packet (.25 ounces) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine flour, instant yeast, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add water and olive oil and mix until dough forms a ball, adding more water as needed. This can also be done using the paddle attachment of an electric stand mixer.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed, until dough is no longer sticky. If using a stand mixer, knead dough for 10 minutes on low using the hook attachment.

Lightly grease a clean bowl. Place dough in the bowl and turn to ensure it is lightly coated with oil. Cover coated dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set in a warm, dry place. Allow dough to rise until it is doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

Punch dough down. Once again, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut dough into eight equal pieces. Cover again with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow dough to rest for 20 minutes. Again, turn each piece out onto a floured work surface. Sprinkle flour over each piece of dough and coat a rolling pin with a light dusting of flour. Roll each piece to about 1/4-inch thick, approximately six inches in diameter. Transfer each piece onto a lightly greased baking sheet or piece of parchment paper (a pizza peel or large oven spatula works well when transferring the dough). Allow rounds to rest for an additional 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. While oven is still heating, place a pizza stone or turn a cookie sheet upside down in the center of the oven. Place pitas on hot baking surface and bake for two minutes. Allow to cool on a baking rack. For crispier pitas, allow rounds to bake for a total of five minutes.

Chicken Gyros
Makes 4-6 gyros

Tzatziki sauce:
16 ounces plain yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 hothouse (seedless) cucumber
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil

Chicken:
4 cloves garlic, pressed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Chopped tomatoes and/or onions, optional

For tzatziki sauce, place yogurt in a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth. Allow yogurt to drain for several hours or overnight.

For chicken, combine garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, yogurt, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add chicken pieces, making sure meat is coated with yogurt mixture. Allow chicken to marinate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, finish preparing tzatziki sauce. Shred cucumber. Wrap in cheesecloth and squeeze to remove as much excess water as possible. Combine yogurt and cucumber with remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Place chicken pieces on a foil lined baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Broil for 10-15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Allow meat to rest for 5 minutes. Slice into strips. Place strips down the center of a warm pita round. Top with tzatziki sauce and tomatoes, and add onions if desired.

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