My Hero, the Gyro

For the past two months, I have had gyros on the brain. My Aunt Marty and I split one at the Oregon State Fair on Labor Day, and last week for my birthday, we got some again at a local Greek restaurant. Ever since, I have been thinking about those fluffy pitas, cool tzatziki, and meltingly tender spiced meat, and when Jeremy brought home a leg of lamb a few days later, I knew I had to try making gyros at home. Traditionally, gyro meat is a combination of lamb and beef, roasted on a vertical rotisserie and shaved into delicate slices on order. I don’t have the means to employ that technique, so I went low-tech and opted to roast it like meatloaf in my convection oven.

Appetizing, right? This unfortunate-looking lump of lamb puree bears absolutely no resemblance to the succulent, crusty-brown loaf of gyro meat it would become 90 minutes later, but believe it or not, Nolan saw me whipping it together in the food processor and begged for a sample. I honestly don’t know what goes through that child’s mind sometimes, but he gave me an excuse to fry up a small sample patty to test for seasoning, a la Anne Burrell. One bite and Nolan lost interest, probably because the cooked meat no longer looked like dough; I, on the other hand, suddenly became very eager for dinnertime, but I had several hours to wait, between the yogurt and cucumbers draining, the meat roasting, and the pitas puffing two by two.

I’ve written about homemade pitas before, but my first venture along that path led to mixed results: several of the pitas failed to puff and the ones that did got over-browned and fragile. So I made a few adjustments this time, and am happy to say that I have found my gold-star pita recipe. All but one puffed perfectly and the texture was pillowy soft, with a well-rounded, mildly wheaty flavor from the addition of some whole wheat flour. My dough-eating toddler hovered around like a fruit fly and stole pinches whenever I set the rounds I was shaping too close to the edge of the counter.

Once the pitas were done, I threw my gyro-loaf into the oven to roast, and stirred up some tzatziki to go along with it. I’ve written about tzatziki before: it is one of my favorite condiments, tangy yogurt perfumed with dill and garlic and cucumber. I would make it more often if it weren’t for the darned cucumber, which I have a hard time using up in one go—inevitably, I end up with half a cucumber liquefying in the bottom of the vegetable drawer, so I tend to avoid buying them. I happened to have a big one this time, harvested from the community garden. (Hmm, this makes me wonder if I can dehydrate cucumber pieces and then stir them into yogurt for tzatziki later… it would certainly save the time I always take to salt and drain them.) At any rate, the abysmal nonfat yogurt improved somewhat texturally after draining in the fridge for an hour or two, and I kneaded the captured 2-3 tablespoons of whey into the lamb mixture before shaping it.

At last everything was ready, and we happily stuffed our split pitas with tzatziki and shavings of savory lamb. The flavor and texture were so addictively spot-on that I briefly contemplated drizzling some of the concentrated pan drippings over everything, but instead our incredibly lucky dog got a spoonful with her bowl of kibble. This made quite a lot of food for our family of three, but I probably should have increased the pita recipe by 50%, since we ate over half of them with dinner and will have to relegate some of the gyro meat to homemade sourdough bread instead. We have your sincere pity, I know. 🙂

Pillowy Pitas

2 C all-purpose flour
1 C whole wheat flour
2 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 C warm milk
2 T olive oil
1 T honey

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flours, yeast, and salt. Add the milk, oil and honey, and knead with the dough hook for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth, but no longer sticky. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to proof for about 90 minutes in a warm spot, until doubled.

Punch down the dough, and divide it into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a sphere like you would for making rolls, and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F, and place a pizza stone or overturned baking sheet on the middle shelf.

Tear sheets of aluminum foil into 8 approximately 8″ squares. One at a time, roll out the balls of dough into rounds about 6-7″ across and between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick, no more. Place each round on a foil square. When the oven is hot, place 2-3 rounds on the pizza stone or baking sheet and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they puff up like little balloons. Remove with a spatula, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel off the foil so they don’t get soggy bottoms; allow to cool completely on a wire rack while you bake up the rest.

Source: Slightly adapted from The Fresh Loaf.

Lamb Gyro Meat

I was starting from a whole leg of lamb, so I ran it through my grinder, fat cap and all, interspersing the chunks with bread crumbs to really blend them together. You might well be able to get away with just chucking hunks of lamb into the food processor and not deal with ground meat at all, but the texture might not have quite the same uniformity.

2 lb ground lamb
1/3 C bread crumbs
1 large onion
1 T garlic
2-3 T whey (optional)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 325F. Place the onion in the food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Turn out into a tea towel; gather up the ends of the towel, twist and squeeze until most of the liquid comes out of the onion. Return to the bowl of the food processor, and add the remaining ingredients. Pulse for about a minute until it comes together as a very fine paste, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Shape the meat mixture into a uniform loaf shape in an appropriately sized casserole dish. (At this point it can be covered and refrigerated for several hours, if desired.) Roast at 325F for 60-75 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-170F. Cover with foil and top with a cast iron skillet or other heavy weight (Alton recommends a foil-wrapped brick), and allow to rest under pressure for 15 min; the internal temperature should rise by a few more degrees. Remove the weight and shave off slices to stuff into fresh pita with tzatziki and feta, plus thinly sliced onion and tomato, if you go for that sort of thing.

Source: Loosely adapted from Food Network.

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