Greek Pork Souvlaki Pita
When I was around 16 years old, I went on my first international holiday "With The Lads!". Flying away for two weeks in a European holiday resort with a group of your best friends was like a rite of passage to adulthood in the UK. There was probably 8 of us, some of us had just left school and were working, others were still studying and had to beg parents to fund the adventure but we had one common agenda, Sun, Sea & Senoritas! all washed down with two weeks of consistent binge-drinking and 4 hours of sleep after all-night clubbing.
I'll spare you the details but needless to say we made a lot of memories on that holiday and while today I would be horrified by some of our behaviour, I can't help but smile and remember it as one of the best times of my life. We went to the Greek island of Zakynthos which is a beautiful island off the Ionian sea. I already had a strong passion for food back then so between the wild nights and lazy days, I made sure that I tried as much Greek cuisine as my wallet could afford.
This culinary experience was mostly limited to Greek street food and traditional dishes you would get at the Greek Tavernas. One of the dishes I'll never forget and still love today was Souvlaki Pita. In it's simplest terms it's some barbecued meat, salad and sauce all wrapped up in a pocketless pita bread. Sounds pretty simple but the Greeks know how to take things up a notch.
Firstly the meat is well marinated in herbs and then skewered (Souvlaki essentially means meat cooked on a skewer) and cooked on screaming hot charcoal quickly to give it a crispy outside and soft inside.
Second, the Greek salad tastes super fresh and well balanced with tomato, red onion, olives and Feta cheese to give it a fresh note
The sauce can be varied but I prefer a traditional Tzatziki which is essentially a yogurt based sauce with cucumber, garlic, mint, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, served chilled on the hot meat, it's the perfect accompaniment
Finally it's all wrapped up in a beautiful pocketless pita flat bread. If you've had ordinary shop bought pita (the ones you can make pockets out of and stuff, this is not quite the same thing, a pocketless pita is a little more like a flour tortilla but thicker and the consistency is more chewy as it's made with milk and not just water. This also gives it elasticity so it can wrap the bread without breaking down from the juices of the salad. This is the one bread I make the effort to do at home instead of buying as it's only really at it's best when it's made fresh.
Put all that together and you have a pretty healthy street food which satisfies the ravenous appetite that a hard night's drinking brings about. I'm gad to say it tastes just as good sober and makes a great light evening meal to eat outdoors with some good friends and watch the fire.
This recipe might initially feel like a bit of a mission and if it feels like that you can buy shop bought Tzatziki or Pita Bread or even Greek Salad if you're super lazy! I'm showing the scratch made version in case you want recipes for certain elements only. In reality though, the whole thing can be made and served from scratch in the time it takes to get the barbecue coals ready and is worth the effort.
Ingredients - To feed 4 hungry diners
For the Pork & Marinade
1kg of Pork - Cubed. I like to use Boneless Pork Spare Rib Chops (also known as Neck Chops) as they have some but not too much fat content. Any pork will do though (fillet/ tenderloin will need extra marinating and more oil to prevent being dry), although if you use loin chops, trim some of the fat away.
4 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
3 Tsp Fresh Oregano
3 Tsp Dried Mint
The juice of 1 large lemon
1 Large red onion - quartered
Salt & Pepper
Wooden kebab skewers
For the Greek Salad
1 bag / head of lettuce (take your pick but I like a rocket, watercress and romaine mix)
4 Tomatoes - halved and then thick sliced
1 Large red onion - Halved and thinly sliced
200g Feta Cheese, cut into small cubes
100g Olives - De-stoned and halved
1/2 Large Lemon
1 pinch of dried oregano
1 pinch of dried mint
Salt & Pepper
1 plate of lemon wedges (For squeezing at the table)
For the Tzatziki
1 Cucumber - Finely diced
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 Large Lemon
1 tsp dried mint
Salt & Pepper
For the Pita Bread
1 Cup / 125 ml Milk
1 Cup / 125 ml Water
4 Cups / 500g All Purpose / Plain Flour
2 tsp Instant Yeast
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Ok, I'm going to go through this in logical order of how I would do it so that all the work is done in one sitting and all the elements come together at once. Everything needs to work around the pork being marinaded and barbecued so if you want less stress, everything else can be made ahead of time if you prefer, leaving just the barbecuing to do when your guests arrive.
Fill the barbecue with charcoal and light
Take all of the pork, onion and marinade ingredients and place in a bowl, give it a good stir to make sure all of the meat is covered. cover and place in the fridge
Put 12 wooden kebab skewer into water
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, add a pinch of salt and pepper, cover and place in the fridge until ready to serve
Place the lettuce, tomato, onion feta and olives in a bowl , cover and place in the fridge
In a small jar or anything you can put a lid on and shake, squeeze the lemon to get all the juice and grate a little bit of the zest into the bowl
Add double the volume of the juice in olive oil (1 part juice, 2 parts oil)
Add the herbs and a good twist of salt and pepper
Place the lid on the jar (or vessel of choice) and give it a good shake.
Place it in the fridge next to the salad for dressing when ready to serve.
Mix the milk and water together in a cup and microwave for 30 seconds to heat up (it should be warm to the touch but not so hot it burns)
Add the yeast and sugar to the mixture and leave aside for 10 minutes
After 10 minutes, pour the mixture into a mixing bowl (or preferably the bowl of your electric mixer with dough hook) and add the oil and salt.
While mixing, slowly add the flour, about a quarter at at time and mix well, keep adding the flour until the dough has come away from the sides of the bowl clean.
Turn out and knead (or electrically mix) for 5 minutes
Separate the dough into 12 equal parts by firstly cutting into 3 equal pieces and then halving each piece twice (3 x 2 x 2 =12)
Put a frying pan under a medium heat DO NOT ADD ANY OIL TO THE PAN!
Roll out the dough balls one at a time so they are the thickness of 2 tortilla wraps(around half the thickness of a normal slice of sandwich bread)
Once rolled, place the flatbread into the dry frying pan and cook on both sides until you have a golden brown but not burned flatbread
Place under a towel and repeat the process for the other 11 flatbread (this is where child labour can come in handy, you cook while they roll)
Keep your 12 flatbread under a clean towel until ready to serve.
Cooking the Pork
Retrieve the now marinaded pork from the fridge and distribute your meat and red onion across the 12 skewers as evenly as possible
Strain the leftover marinade through a sieve so you have a bowl of the juices.
Check your barbecue, it should now be hot with completely white coals.
Place the skewers onto the grill and leave for 2-3 minutes to cook
Turn the skewers 90 degrees and brush with the remaining marinade
Repeat until all 4 sides of the meat has a good char but is not burned
Set aside to rest
Take the Greek salad from the fridge and dress with the jar of dressing and toss to mix
Place the Tzatziki, Salad and Flatbread along with the still warm pork skewers onto the table
Encourage your guests to take a flat bread in one hand, spoon a little salad onto it and then place the skewer on to the bread
Now grip the meat in the flatbread and pull the wooden skewer out and shout "Oupa!"
Spoon some Tatziki on top, squeeze a lemon wedge on the whole thing and enjoy
Bathe in the compliments and plaudits form your guests about what a great cook you are
Tips & Tricks
If you want to bulk things out a bit, serve with a large bowl of hot french fries with a dusting of Garlic Salt. Remember this is street food so it's perfectly acceptable to put french fries in your Pita with the meat and salad. We're all friends here.
Or if it's not a french fry kind of vibe some par boiled baby potatoes finished on the barbecue with butter and fresh mint or a nice potato salad and coleslaw will work.
Top add a bit of extra colour, I chop a little beetroot into my Tzatziki to give it a pink colour and a little added sweetness
I like making this with pork but chicken or lamb will work just as well. Even vegetable skewers will work for a vegetarian, just check if they want their skewers done under the indoor grill/broiler as they may be offended if you cook them with the meat on the grill.
This dish has no spice in it so if you have guests who are spice addicts or simply you want to spice things up a bit, add a bowl of sriracha mayo to the dressing options and maybe even consider putting a chopped jalapeno into the marinade
If you happen to have found this recipe because you need to cook for someone who is Greek a top tip to know is that meat in Greece is served cooked through and not rare. That doesn't mean dry but it does mean NOT PINK. You'll thank me for that tip if you've gone to massive lengths to impress.
Some people confuse this dish with a Greek Gyros (pronounced Hero) but the difference is that Souvlaki is the skewered meat where Gyros is generally sliced meat from a rotisserie. Apart from that, they are pretty much the same thing.
Greek food is all about the lemon so don't skip this because you haven't got one, use the bottled stuff if you must but if you're stuck, it's time to haul ass back the shops.