One of my favorite dishes in the whole wide world is gyros, especially in Chicago’s Greektown. Sadly, once we moved to the suburbs it was no longer a quick trip to get my fix.
While there are several restaurants in the hinterlands – I mean, suburbs – that offer my beloved dish, it wasn’t the same. If it was going to be different than Greektown, then I might as well figure out how to make gyros on my own. That meant learning how to make pitas, tzatziki, and the loaf of meat itself.
Every now and then I do need to spend a whole day cooking. It’s my love language and a reprieve from constant computer work. So, I set to it and began practicing and refining. How could I replicate that Greektown goodness in my own kitchen?
There was a lot to figure out. First, I don’t have a spit, nor a budget to buy 276 pounds of lamb, which is the exact amount required (slight exaggeration) if you’re going to make one of those cones o’ meat.
How could I get that unique texture? Fortunately, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt had done it already. His post on Serious Eat’s The Food Lab goes into the science behind the method. I’ve tried several of his recipes and he’s never steered me wrong.
Kenji’s recipe uses all lamb. Since that’s pricey, I’ve adapted it to use ground beef and pork, ground beef and lamb, and all ground beef. The key is to have an adequate amount of fat, which is why a little bit of bacon is thrown in. (Plus: Bacon.)
Speaking of bacon…check out this recipe for the best potato salad EVER.
Then there’s the tzatziki. Oh, my, have we eaten a lot of super tart, super tangy yogurt and cucumber sauce. Figuring out the ratio of yogurt, lemon, dill, etc., was pucker-inducing on several occasions. But I finally nailed it!
Finally, the pita. Oh, that wonderful wizard of the bread world. The first time one of my pancakes puffed up like a blowfish was one of the happiest cooking days of my life. Seriously – it’s like I figured out how to make a souffle or something. But like the gyro meat, I didn’t figure it out. This time it was the New York Times’ David Tanis. His recipe is easy and makes the perfect pita.
Homemade pita bread, topped with homemade gyro meat, topped with homemade tzatziki yogurt sauce, and finished with tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, and feta? Heaven!
Enough chatter. If you want to bring a little bit of Greektown home to you, here’s how to make gyros.
This gyros recipe includes everything you need to make your own version of the Greek sandwich.
While the ingredients are separated by item (Pita, Meat, Sauce, etc.), the instructions are in order of preparation. This is complex, so please let me know if I've missed any steps or if anything's unclear.
- 1 Cup lukewarm water
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 Cup white whole wheat flour
- 2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 Cucumber (Regular or English)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 Cup Yogurt (Plain or Greek)
- 1/2 Cup Sour Cream (Light or Full Fat)
- 1 lg garlic clove
- 1 tbsp lemon juice + zest
- 1 tsp dried dill
- Dash fresh ground pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 lb 93% Ground Sirloin
- 1 lb 70% Ground Beef OR Ground Pork OR Ground Lamb
- 1 tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 slices of bacon
- Thinly sliced onion
- Feta cheese
The first step is to get your pita dough started.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine water, yeast, and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Add ¼ cup of the white whole wheat flour and ¼ cup all-purpose flour and whisk to combine
- Let the dough sit for about 15 minutes, uncovered, in a warm place. When it's frothy and bubbling, it's ready.
- Add 1 ¾ cups of the all-purpose flour, plus the salt and the olive oil.
- Stir with a wooden spoon until it's shaggy.
- Sprinkle some of the remaining flour over the top and knead in the bowl for 1 minute.
- Turn the dough onto a work surface that's been lightly floured. Knead for 2 minutes, then cover and let it sit for ten minutes. While the dough's resting, clean and dry the mixing bowl.
- Knead the dough for another two minutes. It should be soft and smooth. Put the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel.
- Put the bowl back in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Now it's time to start your tzatziki.
The cucumbers and the yogurt (if using plain) have to drain, so you'll want to get this started next.
- Peel your cucumber, cut it in half, and scrape all of the seeds out. You'll have fewer seeds if you're using an English cucumber.
- You can either dice or grate the cucumber. (I prefer diced because I like little chunks of cucumber.)
- Put the cucumber in a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with salt.
- If you're using plain yogurt, line a colander with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and insert it into a large bowl. Scoop the yogurt into the liner and let it sit in the refrigerator.
Get the meat started.
- Add kosher salt, black pepper, and oregano to both types of meat in a large bowl.
- Mix with your hands and refrigerate for at least one hour. Really make sure it's mixed well.
Back to the pita dough!
- Has your dough doubled in size? Great! It's time to roll! If not, let it sit until it does.
- Place a pizza stone or a large cast-iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven and set the temperature to 475°.
- Divide the dough into eight (8) equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into balls and cover with a damp towel. Let sit for ten (10) minutes.
- Have a seat. Pour a glass of wine. Take a load off.
- Get back up and roll out one ball at a time. The key to poofy pitas is to apply steady pressure while rolling them out, but don't be too aggressive. You should end up with a disc that's about 6" to 8" in diameter.
- Open the oven and carefully slide the disc onto the stone/pan. Ideally, you can fit two or three at once. Otherwise, baking the pitas will not only take longer, but the oven will also cool from being opened and closed by the time you get to the last one so they won't rise as much.
- Check on your pitas after two (2) minutes. POOF! Gently turn your puffed dough over and then cook for another minute. There should be some brown spots, but most of your pitas will be pale.
- Wrap your pitas in a basket lined with a towel. Congratulations! One element is now complete!
Finish the tzatziki
- Check on your cucumbers and yogurt. Is there liquid at the bottom of both bowls? Good.
- Turn your cucumbers onto paper towels or a tea towel to remove more moisture.
- Combine the yogurt, sour cream, lemon juice and zest, dill, garlic, pepper, and cucumber. Add salt to taste, although you may not need any because of the salt on the cucumber.
- Refrigerate until it's dinnertime.
Now for the final step: the loaf of meat.
- This is the step that will give your meat that gyros texture. Add the meat to a food processor with a knife blade.*
- Add the roughly chopped onion, bacon, and diced garlic.
- Pulse until you've got one sticky, gooey mass. You might have to do this in batches depending on the strength of your food processor.
- Set the oven to 300°.
- Line a baking sheet with foil and spray or dab with oil.
- Turn the meat mixture onto the foil. Shape it into a rectangular loaf that's about 1 ½" high and 5" wide.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until meat reaches 155°.
- Remove from oven and let sit for about fifteen (15) minutes.
- While the meat's resting, have another glass of wine. Prepare a side dish. Slice some tomatoes and the other half of the onion. Take a bathroom break. Do a little dance.
- Thinly slice the loaf crosswise. Then lay the slices flat on a lined baking sheet and broil until the edges are brown.
Finally, you're ready to put it all together! Top that pita with as many slices of gyro meat as you want, drizzle on that tzatziki, and go to town with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and feta. (Give me ALL the feta!)
Congratulations - you did it!
*If you don't have a food processor, a stand mixer will work in a pinch, but it won't cut those proteins as well.
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