fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita

The star of this dish is the flavor in the meat.  Or maybe the fresh pillowy pita bread.  Or maybe the tangy yogurt sauce.

Luckily for us, we don’t have to have one star; we can have three.  Why not?

I made this up after making meatballs with this basic recipe for a while (which I usually served with couscous) and realizing that it would go really well on a pita.  S couldn’t believe his eyes when I set it before him on the table.  The look in his eyes said “what did I do to deserve such an awesome wife?”  I love that look!  If you want it too, follow along….

I used ground beef because it’s what I had.  Ground pork or a half-and-half combination of beef and pork would work just fine here.

The secret to the meat is absolutely the spices.  If you don’t have these spices, I recommend that you get them.  They’re not expensive and they will give you a wonderful Eastern Mediterranean flavor for many dishes.

Start by making the pita bread.  The recipe for that is here.  When I made this dish, I made the pita bread for lunch; I made eight pitas, and we each had two with melitzanosalata (eggplant dip) for lunch, and two more each with kebabs for dinner the same night.  Because we’re total hedonists like that.

Preheat the oven.  Crush the spices (seeds, really): fennel seeds (marathosporos / μαραθόσπορος here in Greece) and coriander seeds, along with some dried mint.

Divide the spice mixture in half.  You’re going to put half of it in the sauce and the other half in the meat.

Grate your onion.  What?  You don’t grate onions?  This is a very common technique in Greece that I never saw before coming here.  Greeks use the humble cheese grater for all sorts of things, primarily onions and tomatoes.  It’s fantastic, because you get tiny bits of onion with all the flavor, but none of the crunchiness.  Onion mush!  I grate the onion directly into the bowl I’m going to mix everything in.

In the same bowl (don’t use a tiny bowl like I did, can you tell that all of my dishes were in the dishwasher?), put in the egg, the half of the spices, the breadcrumbs, and the meat.

Mix it up with your hands until it’s well combined.  They always say not to overdo it, because it will toughen the meat; I’ve never had that happen, so I’m not sure how serious of an issue that is, but I follow the recommendation and stop mixing as soon as it looks combined.

Take four bamboo skewers (you know, souvlaki sticks), and dip them in olive oil.  I do this to prevent the meat from sticking.  I don’t know if it works but I know that I never have sticking problems.  So maybe it does.  Clump the meat around the stick.  Don’t worry – it’s not going to be a perfect cylinder, and it will feel fragile.  There’s no need to be anxious – when it cooks, it will hold together just fine.

Brush your baking sheet with olive oil – you don’t want them to stick to the sheet either – and pop them in the oven for a few minutes.  These will cook quickly, so don’t forget about them.

Meanwhile, it’s time to make the sauce.  The most important ingredient is plain Greek yogurt.  Any fat content will work (0%, 2%, 5%, or 10%) – I use 2%.  In a bowl, stir together the yogurt, lemon zest, other half of the spice mix, and the dried dill (you can use fresh dill if you have it).

When the meat is ready, take it out and pop the pita bread in to warm up for a few minutes if they’re not still warm.

Put some sauce on each pita with one kebab and some very finely sliced red onion.

At the table, gently twist and tug the stick while holding the kebab with the other hand to pull it out.

Fennel seed Kebabs with Yogurt sauce on Pita
Makes 4 kebabs

For the kebabs:
170g ground beef, pork, or a mixture of the two
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp dried mint
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 small egg
1 tsp olive oil
4 bamboo skewers

For the sauce:
150g plain Greek yogurt (strained)
1/2 tsp dried dill weed (or 1 tsp fresh)
1 tsp lemon zest

For the pitas:
1/2 of this recipe
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly

1.  Make the pitas following the Pillowy Pita Bread recipe.  You’ll only need 4 of the 8 pitas that the recipe makes.  This can be done in advance.

2.  Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grind the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and dried mint together with a mortar & pestle or in a spice grinder.  Divide in half.

3.  In a bowl, grate the onion; add the egg, breadcrumbs, 1/2 ground spices, and ground meat.  Combine with hands.

4.  Dip each skewer in olive oil.  Brush baking sheet with olive oil.  Clump the meat around the skewers and place on baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes.

5.  To make sauce:  in a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, other half of ground spices, dill, and zest.

6.  When meat is cooked, remove from oven and place pitas on the oven rack.  Turn off oven and allow to warm up with residual heat.

7.  Assemble pitas:  Place yogurt sauce in center of each pita in a line and cover with a kebab. Put some sliced onion alongside the kebab on the pita.

Nutritional Information
per kebab, i.e., 1/4 of the recipe, not including the pita or the sauce

177 calories
12g fat (4g saturated, 8g unsaturated)
7g carbohydrate
10g protein
1g dietary fiber
72mg cholesterol (24% DV)
100mg sodium (4% DV)
175mg potassium (5% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
niacin, zinc, riboflavin, and vitamin b-12.

for 1/4 of the sauce, add 24 calories.

for the pita, see the original recipe.

You might also like:
Melitzanosalata / Greek eggplant dip
Santorini fava
Greek lentil soup

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20 thoughts on “fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita

    • You mean dried fennel leaves and coriander (cilantro) leaves, instead of the seeds? I would say probably yes on the fennel leaves and probably no on the cilantro leaves. Do you have aniseed? That might stand in adequately for the fennel seed. If you don’t have coriander seeds, do you have garam masala or curry powder? They’re both full of coriander – you could try a little bit of that. You’ll have to experiment, I haven’t tried using the leaves instead of the seeds in this recipe! If you do it, I’d love to hear how it turns out!

  1. Looks amazing! Definitely want to try and make the pita breads, because we prepare souvlaki very often (I used chicken on skewers two days ago, with yogurt tzatziki and onion) and always buy the pita. Thanks! :D

  2. Heidi,
    This sounds delicious. Can’t wait to try it. And, now that we can easily get Greek yogurt – the sauce will be simple, too.

    Speaking of souvlaki – there used to be kiosk in the local mall that had amazing souvlaki. But, the closed before I could ask him his spices. I have a home-made gyros seasoning that i darn tasty. But, what he did with the souvlaki was different. Shrug..

    • Yogurt based sauces have saved my life on many occasions! Greek yogurt is part of probably the majority of recipes on this blog for good reason! I’m glad it’s becoming more available around the world.

      A tip for Greek yogurt that many people don’t know is that if you store the container on its side or upside down in the fridge, it will continue to strain itself. Pour off the water before use (being careful to shield the yogurt from falling into the sink – this has happened to me!) and you get even thicker yogurt than usual. I actually figured this out because the containers took up less space if I stored them on their sides in my tiny fridge on the island (very cute, came up to my hip-bone).

  3. Heidi, your photos are gorgeous. I admire your photographic talent as much as your culinary imagination. You’re obviously an artist in every sense of the word. I can’t believe you actually pause to wash your hands and take a photo every step of the way. Now that is truly amazing! I’m much too lazy to do so much work. Bravo.

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