May it Please the Palate: No mystery to making homemade gyros

As a young man in Ann Arbor hungry for a taste of Greek cooking, the Parthenon on Main Street was a home away from home. That gyros meat on a spit smelled so good, and on its grilled flatbread with tzatziki sauce, tomato, and onion, and a handful of fries, it was heavenly.

Even when I became vegetarian I couldn't give it up. I would substitute a chunk of feta cheese for the meat and it was almost as good, especially with fries on the sandwich. I ordered that variation so often they finally put it on the menu.

No longer am I vegetarian, but nor can I buy the Parthenon's gyros sandwich. Long time owners, brothers John and Steve Gavas, have retired and hung up the spit after 37 years. I recently ran into Steve and he looked relaxed and happy, having just returned from visiting the Greek islands.

A friend once served me homemade baked gyros. I'd never even conceived of the possibility of making this myself. I found a recipe from TV chef Alton Brown and it works pretty well. The Greeks will argue about what kind of meat to use; I have seen lamb, beef, pork, or a combination. (That's a nice way of saying "mystery.") This recipe uses lamb. I have also used 2/3 lamb and 1/3 pork with success. Don't skip the step with the brick --that's what gives the meat its dense texture.

Alton Brown's Gyros Recipe

* 1 medium onion, finely chopped or shredded

* 2 pounds ground lamb

* 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

* 1 tablespoon dried marjoram

* 1 tablespoon dried ground rosemary

* 2 teaspoons kosher salt

* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* Tzatziki Sauce, recipe follows

Process the onion in a food processor for 10 to 15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice.

Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper and process until it is a fine paste, approximately 1 minute. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down sides of bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press into the sides of the pan. Place the loaf pan into a water bath and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165 to 170 degrees F. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat. Place the loaf pan on a cooling rack and place a brick wrapped in aluminum foil directly on the surface of the meat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees F. Slice and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, chopped onion, tomatoes and feta cheese.

A pinch or two of sweet paprika, hot, or a combination is also nice as a garnish. I also like to fry up some potatoes with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and sea salt (or toss them all together and grill the potatoes).

Tzatziki Sauce:

16 ounces Greek style yogurt

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Pinch kosher salt

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

5 to 6 mint leaves, finely minced

Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint.

Greeks will pronounce these "GEE-roes" with a guttural "g" and rolled "r." Americans often say "JIE-roes" to the point where Greeks give in and pronounce it the same way. No matter how you say it, served with a Greek salad, bottle of Retsina or a Sauvignon Blanc, and good company, it's a perfect outdoor summer meal. And please accommodate your vegetarian friends with plenty of feta and fried potatoes in lieu of the mystery meat.

Published: Thu, Jul 12, 2012

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