Homemade Pita Bread

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the great parts of living near a metropolitan city is the lots of different types of cuisine. Over Labor Day weekend, I went to a Greek festival and chowed down on a lot of good Greek food. The most important component of Greek food for me is the pita. Great pita bread can make a gyro, and bad pita bread will ruin one.

I wanted to be able to recreate good Greek food in my own home, and since I already had the gyro meat and tzatziki ready, I just needed the pita bread. Now I have had a lot of trouble (and some success) with making homemade bread, so I wanted to find a recipe from someone who I trusted would not lead me astray in a yeast-mess.

And here we go! I have made this pita bread several times, and it works. So go forth and have DIY Greek food in your own home!

PITA BREAD

INGREDIENTS

1 cup water
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
One pinch granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Olive oil, for frying

DIRECTIONS

Heat water to 110 degrees in a large bowl and stir in yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy and dissolved. Stir in flour, salt, and olive oil. Knead dough on a well floured surface for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Coat a bowl with oil and place dough in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and keep covered with towel when not working with them. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Coat pan with olive oil. Roll out dough to an 8 inch circle. Place in hot pan and cook for approximately 30 seconds to one minute per side until it begins to bible and brown. Keep wrapped in towel to keep warm while making the remaining pita bread.

Serve immediately.

Barely Adapted from Half Baked Harvest

Chicken Souvlaki

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Why is grilling a summer event?  Is it logical  to stand in front of a big metal contraption that is 100+ degrees when it is already 100+ degrees outside? And then you have to run in and outside, thus making your AC fight an even harder uphill battle to keep your house somewhat cool/bearable. And mosquitoes?  It takes approximately 5.3 seconds for my to get 6 separate mosquito bites, 3 of them in places that I swear was covered with clothing.  So basically grilling leads to me getting felt up by mosquitoes…and it’s the most action I have gotten in a while.

So you’ll see me this winter in my long underwear (…I promise to wear real pants too) grilling defiantly.  And these summer months you will see me inside standing in directly front of my AC vent in an attempt to get somewhat cool. (Except I won’t be grilling at all since I don’t have a grill, but that is another story entirely.)

Moral of this complaining rant: use a grill pan so you have AC in summer and heat in the winter and grill marks on your food.  Unless you want to stand outside in the heat.  Now that I have solved that problem, let me tackle that one little issue called world peace.

This chicken is light and refreshing, perfect for summer.  Warm, grilled chicken pairs well with cool yogurt and crispy cucumbers.  It will taste wonderful whether you grill it inside or outside. You can go through the entire process of marinating and such, but I won’t lie, sometimes I just splash a mix of the marinade in the pan while I cook the chicken and call it a day.

And looking back at this post I think I may understand why I am single and get those desperate spam e-mails for online dating: I complain a lot, get felt up by mosquitoes, and wear long underwear.  But I can cook! Come and get it, boys.

CHICKEN SOUVLAKI
From Cinnamon Freud

INGREDIENTS

For the Chicken:
1-1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into approximately 4 ounce pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried dill
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the Tztaziki Sauce:
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Special tools: cheesecloth/tea towel

For Serving:
Wild Rice
Green onions, sliced

DIRECTIONS

For the Chicken:

In a large ziploc bake or baking sheet, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dill, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Add chicken and shake/stir to cover completely.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes (up to overnight).

Prepare your grill.  Grill chicken for 3-5 minutes per side until cooked through (will depend on the thickness of your chicken breast).

For the Tzatziki:

Secure a cheesecloth over a measuring cup.  Spoon yogurt on top.  Refrigerate and let yogurt drain for at least 3 hours.

Place cucumber on a layer of paper towel.  Salt cucumbers and let sit for at least 20 minutes.  Transfer cucumbers to a tea towel and squeeze to remove water.  Transfer drained yogurt from cheesecloth to a large bowl.  Add cucumbers, red wine vinegar, dill, and garlic.  Mix to combine.  Drizzle olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper to taste.
For Serving:
Place chicken on top of rice.  Spread Tzatziki sauce on top.  Garnish with green onions.
If desired, put remaining marinade in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Serve on top of chicken.

Spanakopita

After only trying Greek food for the first time last year, I have been busy at work making up for lost time.  All those years when I turned up my nose at those “funky” foods with yogurt, sweet spices, spinach, and olives- what a waste.  I am now enamored with Mediterranean cuisine in all forms.
For those who have never had spanakopita before, it’s a pastry of phyllo dough filled with a spinach, nuts, and cheese. It’s warm, crunchy, and cheesy all at the same time- perfect as a side dish with some lamb or a main dish served with a Greek side salad.  Making homemade spanakopita seems like an intimidating and long process, but it really isn’t.  It takes a little more effort than a microwave dinner perhaps, but the results are so much better.  The only step that might pose some difficulty is buttering each phyllo dough and layering.  I’ll be honest- I often don’t bother with buttering each sheet when I am feeling lazy, and it still tastes good.
(On a side note, I am very proud of these pictures.  I have taken dozens upon dozens of pictures of Spanakopita, but these are the first to actually look appetizing- all thanks to a new camera from my uncle!)
SPANAKOPITA
Adapted from Ina Garten
INGREDIENTS
12 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

12 sheets phyllo dough
3-4 tablespoons melted butter

Kosher salt
DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  (You may need to do this in two batches if you don’t have a skillet large enough).  Cool in a colander.  Drain and squeeze out excess water.  Set aside.


Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Heat olive oil and  add onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and tender.  Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 additional minutes until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and continue to cook until all liquid has evaporated.  Cool and set aside.


In a large bowl, combine eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, spinach, onion, and garlic.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Fold in a pine nuts and goat cheese.


Working with 3 sheets of phyllo dough at a time, brush each layer with melted butter as you layer then on top of each other.  Cut the sheets in half lengthwise.  Place a dollop on each strip of phyllo dough.  Fold in a triangular shape as if you were folding a flag. Place on baking sheet fold-side down.  Repeat with remaining phyllo dough and filling.  Brush the tops of the spanakopita with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let cool for 3-5 minutes on baking sheet before eating.


Makes 8 spanakopita.  Serves 2-4.

Seven Layer Mediterranean Dip

One of my first recipes I created and made for weekend snacking as a seven layer Mexican dip (minus a few layers since I didn’t like tomatoes and avocados when I was younger so I wisely compensated by adding some more cheese).   Served with salty Frito scoops, I was set for a weekend of yummy snacking and felt like a culinary genius.

This dip is a genius idea for a spin on the traditional seven layer dip replacing the Mexican layers with its Mediterranean flavored counterpart.  It tastes fresh and light and is simple to make.  Each layer provides a different flavor profile to create a combination of creaminess and crunchiness.

SEVEN LAYER MEDITERRANEAN DIP
INGREDIENTS

10 ounces hummus
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cucumbers, pealed and chopped
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS
Spread the hummus in the bottom of an 8×8 pan.  In a large bowl, combined cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon juice.  Using a hand mixer, beat until combined and whipped.  Spread cream cheese mixture on top of hummus layer.
Spread cucumbers in a layer over a colander.  Salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  Pat dry and transfer cucumber to a tea towel.  Wring out excess water.  Sprinkle cucumber on top of cream cheese layer.  Drain excess juices from chopped tomatoes with a paper towel.  Sprinkle over cucumbers.  Drain excess juices from olives with a paper towel.  Sprinkle olives on top of tomatoes.  Sprinkle green onions, feta cheese, and parsley on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) in refrigerator.  Serve with pita chips.

Baked Falafel

 
For someone who first tried Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine less than a year ago, I have definitely taken to it quite quickly.  I finally get what everyone else was always talking about- hummus is delicious!  One of my favorite things to do on the weekends now is to go to a Mediterranean restaurant and try new dishes.
 
One dish featured on many a Mediterranean menu is falafel, which is basically ground and flavored chickpeas.  Falafel is a vegetarian meal where you definitely don’t miss the meat.  The chickpea mixture mimics a meatball texture, but I find it to be even better with more complex flavors.  Falafel is typically fried, but in an effort to be healthier and out of a laziness, this recipe has you bake the falafel.  It comes out delicious- a crispy exterior with a soft, pillowy inside.
 
Make sure to check out some more Mediterranean flavor:
 
BAKED FALAFEL
Slightly Adapted from Pink Parsley
 
INGREDIENTS
 
For the Falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 red onion, minced
5 cloves of garlic, roasted
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Nonstick cooking spray
 
For Serving:
Pita bread
Hummus or Tzatziki sauce
Sweet pickles, chopped
Lettuce, chopped
Red onion, thinly sliced
 
DIRECTIONS
 
Pour dried chickpeas into a large bowl.  Cover with water.  Let soak at least 24 hours.
 
Preheat oven to 375°F.
 
Drain and rinse the chickpeas.  In the food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, coriander, salt, lemon juice, and water.  Pulse until mixture forms a paste.  Fold in baking powder and flour, until mixture stays together.  Add more flour if needed.
 
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Working with 2 tablespoons of chickpeas mixture, form into balls.  Place on baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining mixture.  Spray falafel with olive oil or nonstick spray.  Bake for 20-23 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown.
 
Serve on pita bread with hummus/tzatziki, pickles, lettuce, and red onion.
 
Serves 4.
 

Greek Burrito

I have been in a serious food rut lately.  Nothing I have been making turns out good.  Actually, it is not just not good- it turns out awful.  It has gotten so bad that I can’t even finish my plate (and I have eaten some seriously gross stuff before).  If you don’t believe me, I ate green and blue onions last night (bad experiment with baking soda).  So the reason for low activity here is because food is not bringing me any inspiration and my time in the kitchen lately has been sparse.
These Greek styled burritos were the last good thing I whipped up- ah, the memories of good food.  The Tex-Mex burrito is filled with Greek flavors.  A delicious dinner is something to be truly appreciated.  Go home today and thank whoever made you a great dinner.
On a side note, today I will be interviewing at my first clinical psychology PhD program.  Wish me good luck!
GREEK BURRITOS
Inspired by KokoCooks
INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried wild rice
Olive oil
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
20 ounces ground lamb (or turkey)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried cloves
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 ounces goat cheese
1 tomato, chopped
6-8 flour tortillas
DIRECTIONS
Prepare rice according to instructions.  Keep warm and set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat,  add enough olive oil to coat the pan.  Add red onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and tomato paste.  Cook for 1 minutes.  Add ground lamb and cook until browned, about 6-9 minutes.  Drain off grease, if needed.  Add rosemary, marjoram, and dried cloves.  Cook for an additional minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Wrap tortillas in wax paper.  Microwave for 30 seconds, until warm.  Fill each tortilla with rice, lamb mixture, tzatziki, goat cheese, and tomatoes.  Fold the bottom of the tortilla over the filling then fold over the sides.
Serves 4-5.

Greek Pizza

OPA!

This weekend I tried to make my own pita bread for a gyro.  And failed.  It turned out more like a big pita chip instead, which I turned into a makeshift gryo tostada. Ah, well. I have put pita bread back on my to do list.  The mishap left me with an open package of yeast and leftover tzatziki sauce.  What to do….make pizza of course!

Unlike the pita bread, the pizza was a success.  The Greek flavors are bold and delicious. Some recipe notes: if you are on a college student budget like me, you can substitute ground turkey or ground beef for the ground lamb.  Here is how I made my tzatziki sauce, it tasted even better leftover from the night before.  Also, if you are one of those people who like tomatoes (I am not), some sun dried tomatoes would be a great compliment to the other ingredients.

GREEK PIZZA
From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS

For the Pizza Dough:
1 package active yeast
1/2 cup water, 110 °F
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Pizza Toppings:
6 ounces ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon dill
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Half red onion, sliced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
2 ounces Asiago cheese, grated
Tatziki sauce

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Dissolve yeast in water.  Stir in granulated sugar. Let sit 10 minutes until foamy. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until soft dough forms. Knead dough on floured surface for about 5-10 minutes.  Let rise 30-40 minutes in a warm place.

In a small skillet over medium heat combine ground lamb, rosemary, and marjoram.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, then add red wine vinegar.  Add red onions.  Continue to cook for 5-7 minutes, until ground lamb is browned, red onions are soft, and red wine vinegar has evaporated.  Remove from heat.

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray or prepare a pizza stone.  Roll out pizza dough to desired thickness.  Spread a little olive oil over pizza.  Top with mozzarella, Asiago, ground lamb, and red onions.  Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until crust is golden brown.  Spoon dollops of tatziki sauce on top.

Serves 2-3.

Gyro Meat with Tzatziki

Greek food is new food to me.  (Or, Greek food is all Greek to me.)  I am just discovering the wonders of gyro pitas, spanakopitas, and baklava. The only thing I can say is: why did I not try this sooner?  My favorite of all the Greek food I have tried so far is definitely the gyro.  Spiced, delectable shaved meat served in a warm pita with cool tzatziki and crunchy onions? Sign me up.

This recipe does take planning ahead (for both the meat and the tzatziki) and some special kitchen gadgets, but the work is worth the results. The meat tastes exactly as if you bought it from your favorite Greek joint.  This is definitely a weekend treat dinner- something to enjoy on a special occasion or just a really cold Sunday.  The meat can be made to make the pita sandwiches or just eaten as is.  Just make sure you serve it with the tzatziki- it takes the dish to another level.

This meal and post is dedicated to our small food processor who lost the fight against this meat.  It’s sacrifice was not given in vain but in the name of good food.

GYRO MEAT
From Alton Brown
INGREDIENTS

1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground lamb
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tabespoon dried majoram
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Special tools: tea towel, loaf pan, brick wrapped in foil
Tzatziki, for serving (recipe below)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a food processor, process onion for 10-15 seconds.  Remove onion from processor and transfer to a tea towel.  Squeeze onion to remove excess water (there will be a lot of water).

In a large bowl, combine onion, garlic, lamb, rosemary, marjoram, salt, and pepper.  Transfer to food processor (in small batches if needed).  Process for 30-45 seconds, until paste-like.  Press mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to remove all air pockets.

Put loaf pan in a 9×13 baking pan.  Fill the 9×13 baking pan with warm water.  Bake for 50-65 minutes, until loaf is 170°F.  Remove from oven.  Drain off grease from the loaf.  Place brick covered in foil on top of loaf and let sit for 10-15 minutes, until loaf is 175°F.  Slice thinly.  Serve with tzatziki sauce.

To serve as a gyro sandwich:
Heat a medium pan over medium heat.  Heat pita bread, about 1 minute per side.  Top warm pita with gyro meat, tzatziki, sliced tomato, and thinly sliced red onions.

TZATZIKI 
Adapted from Elly Says Opa
INGREDIENTS
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Special tools: cheesecloth, tea towel
DIRECTIONS
Secure a cheesecloth over a measuring cup.  Spoon yogurt on top.  Refrigerate and let yogurt drain for at least 3 hours.
Place cucumber on a layer of paper towel.  Salt cucumbers and let sit for at least 20 minutes.  Transfer cucumbers to a tea towel and squeeze to remove water.  Transfer drained yogurt from cheesecloth to a large bowl.  Add cucumbers, red wine vinegar, dill, and garlic.  Mix to combine.  Drizzle olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper to taste.