pork gyros with everything

The ultimate Greek street food is called ‘gyros.’  The word ‘gyros,’ as you can probably guess, comes from the Greek word that means ‘around.’  A gyros is a sandwich, with either pita or bread, with meat (usually) stuck on a rotating metal spear.  The rotation is how they got their name.  The most common type of gyros is pork; outside of major cities, it is often the only kind available.  The second most common type is chicken; most gyros shops have these.  It is very rare to see other types; however you may come across lamb or even beef.  My city is one of the only places in Greece where you can get beef – although technically this is the Turkish döner rather than Greek gyros.  You can also order gyros without meat; these are popular during Lent.

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Gyros is such a popular food in Greece that it makes up an entire industry – and despite the economic crisis, it is reported to be doing very well.  Gyros are sold in shops that go by various names:  ovelistirio (‘obelisk store’ because the rotating meat spear resembles an obelisk), gyradiko (‘gyros shop’), souvlatzidiko (‘souvlaki shop,’ a reference to gyros’ cousin souvlaki, which is square chunks of meat cooked on a grill), sandwichadiko (‘sandwich shop’), and fastfoodadiko (you can figure that one out yourself).  Even the smallest Greek town will have at least one of these.  They tend to open up around 5pm, and they deliver until late into the night.  They are very popular among college students, bachelors, and tourists.

The ritual of ordering a gyros is as follows:  first, you indicate that you are ordering the gyros wrapped up in a pita (or in bread), as opposed to the much more expensive plated version.  Then you specify your meat choice, and then what extras you want.  The standard extras are fried potatoes, tomato, and onion.  In northern Greece, mustard and ketchup are also standard.  In southern Greece, tzatziki is very common.  You can also ask for a different sauce; there are usually six or seven other options.  Most people order their gyros ‘with everything.’

You don’t have to be in Greece to eat gyros, though.  You can make it at home and it’s pretty close.  I sure as heck don’t have a rotating obelisk of meat in my house; I just bought some boneless pork and cut it into pieces.  Because the meat in a gyros is thinly sliced pork, this is pretty close.  (Turkish döner uses ground beef but that’s not how it’s done in Greece.)

When I made gyros at home, I made everything except the ketchup from scratch.  You can decide what you want to make from scratch based on what you have available and how much work you want to do.

The first step is to start the dough for the pita bread.  I used my regular pillowy pita bread recipe for this.  Follow that recipe through the first rise and then come back here.

Once the pita bread dough is rising in its bowl, it’s time to prepare the pork.  I bought boneless pork and cut it into small pieces.

Make the marinade:  cider vinegar, oregano, thyme, cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, and ground pepper.  (I used salt also but you don’t have to.)

Combine it all well in a bowl and add the pork.  Cover and refrigerate.

Next, make the mustard.  You can use any kind of mustard you like, but I recommend a ‘standard’ type, not Dijon or honey mustard.  To make mustard, mix two parts mustard powder with one part vinegar and one part water.  Whisk it together well, cover, and refrigerate also.  (If you’re a mustard weirdo like me, you can put all kinds of spices in it.  But this is totally unnecessary.)  When you’re ready to use it, whisk it again; you may want to whisk in a little additional water to return it to the proper consistency.  It keeps well due to the vinegar so you can make more than you’re going to use for this recipe if you like.  Or, you know, just open a jar of mustard.

Now, make the tzatziki.  (Note: this is tzatziki for gyros, not real tzatziki.  Real tzatziki has a lot of cucumber in it.  We’ll make that some other time.)  Stir together the yogurt, dill, and garlic, with a pinch of salt.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven.

Cut four pieces of wax paper to about 10″ wide.  Set aside.  Slice the tomatoes and onions very thinly and set aside.

Wash and slice the potatoes into french fry shape.  (Note:  I made more than the recipe calls for in the above photo so that we could have extra on the side.)  In a large bowl, toss the sliced potatoes with the olive oil and salt.  Arrange on a baking sheet and bake, periodically moving them around, until they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, about 50 minutes.  Put them aside for now.  Turn the oven to its maximum temperature, with an overturned baking sheet on the middle rack.  (Note #2:  the traditional way to make potatoes for gyros is to fry them.  You can certainly do that if you prefer.)

When the pita dough has risen, press it down and divide into four, rather than eight, pieces.  Continue to follow the pita instructions through baking them.  They should bake in about 3 minutes.

In a pan sprayed with non-stick spray, stir-fry the marinated pork pieces.  This will take a while; you want them to start to brown.  Taste a little piece:  it shouldn’t taste like vinegar at all.  When the pork reaches a golden brown / pink color, remove it from the heat.  While these are cooking, put the potatoes back in the oven to keep them warm.

To assemble the gyros, place one pita on one end of a piece of wax paper.  Put a few tablespoons of tzatziki on the pita.  Layer on the tomato and onion slices.  Then add the pork and potatoes. Add a little bit of mustard and ketchup.

Curl the pita tightly around itself and wrap tightly with the wax paper.

One of these is very filling!  This recipe makes enough for four people.

Pork Gyros
serves 4

1 recipe of Pillowy Pita Bread
300g boneless pork, raw
500g potatoes, raw
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup Greek strained yogurt, any fat content
1 tsp dried dill or 1 tbsp fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 medium tomato, sliced very thin
1 small onion, sliced very thin

1. Prepare the Pillowy Pita Bread according to the recipe, but making 4 large pitas instead of 8 regular ones.

2. Make the marinade: in a medium bowl, mix together the cider vinegar, oregano, thyme, cumin, smoked paprika, pepper, and 1 tsp salt. Add the pork; cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F.

3. Make the mustard: in a small bowl, whisk the mustard powder with the wine vinegar and 1 tbsp water. Optional: whisk in pinches of other flavorings, for example whole mustard seeds, horseradish powder, cumin, toasted onion powder, dark brown sugar, etc. Cover and refrigerate.

4. Make the tzatziki: in a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, dill, and garlic with a pinch of salt. Set aside.

5. Slice the potatoes into french fry shape. In a large bowl, toss with the olive oil and the remaining salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake until crispy, about 45-50 minutes, periodically moving them around to prevent sticking and to bake on all sides. Set aside, and turn oven to maximum heat with a baking sheet overturned on the middle rack.

6. Bake pitas according to pita recipe. Cut four pieces of wax paper 10″ wide, leaving them their original length (about 22″).  Replace the potatoes in the oven (turned off) to keep them warm.

7. Spray a nonstick pan with olive oil. Stirfry the marinated pork until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl.

8. Assemble the gyros: Place a pita on one end of a piece of wax paper. Dollop a few tbsp of tzatziki in the center. Arrange a few slices of tomato and onion on top. Add pork and potatoes, then a small amount of mustard and ketchup. Curl the pita around itself (it will just barely close), and wrap tightly with the wax paper. Continue with the other three.

Nutritional Information:
per gyros, i.e., 1/4 of total recipe (assumes you use lowfat yogurt)

585 calories
14g fat (3g saturated, 11g unsaturated)
88g carbohydrate
28g protein
7g dietary fiber
50mg cholesterol (17% DV)
1924mg sodium  (80% DV) ** This is a high sodium food!
1127mg potassium (32% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B-12, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita
Kremmydopita (handmade onion pie)
Baked spanakoryzo 

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Sifnos & her almond sweets

Of all the islands we visited while we were living in the southwestern Cycladic archipelago, Sifnos was probably the one that surprised us the most.  We had heard good things, but having been in and out of the unimpressive port town many times on the way to and from ‘our’ island, we weren’t really sold on it.  We gave it a great chance to impress us by visiting at the height of spring flowers.  It stole our hearts, so much that we gave it the very high accolade of “we’d be willing to live here.”   Today’s recipe is a wonderful traditional sweet from the island, but before we get to that, we have to get in the proper mood first!

The beach of Vathy (“deep”).  When we were there, it was a glorious day – too cold to swim, but not too cold to enjoy the beach.

A small country house with olive trees near Vathy.  Unlike some of the other islands nearby, Sifnos is able to support an impressive amount of olive cultivation.

Above:  a dovecote in the midground, below the town, alongside some beehives, among the olives, and between several ancient stone terraces.  <- A sentence with a lot of prepositions.

Sheep in a field in the town of Exambela.

Another dovecote – the island is pretty well stocked with them.  I thought that these were a specialty of the island of Tinos (where I’ve never been) but was pleased to see that Sifnos is full of them as well.

The monastery of Panagia Chryssopigi between Apokofto and Saoures beaches.

Sifnos is ideal for walking… there are dozens of beautiful walking trails like the one from which I took this photo.

This ‘pond’ formed from rain water or melted snow at the top of a mountain where we were walking.

So… are you hungry yet?

Sifnos is famous for sweets made with almond paste, called amydalota.  The word means ‘almond’ as an adjective, as in ‘almond-shaped’ or ‘made of almonds.’  There are many Greek sweets made of almonds that carry this same name, and this particular version can be found on other islands besides Sifnos, but that’s where we had them and I think Sifnos is most famous for them.

When we tried these in Sifnos, we absolutely loved them:  they are not particularly sweet, except for the sugar coating, and they have a rib-sticking gummy mealy graininess to them that sounds awful but is just perfect.  I have been looking for a recipe pretty much since we left.  The recipe I ended up with after a little adjusting is not at all time-consuming, and the results are very close to what I remember eating in Sifnos.  S agreed with me that these were just as good as the ones we got at the traditional Siphnian pastry shop!

These are traditionally given out at weddings, and the website where I found the recipe (which I adjusted somewhat) says that they preceded the now-customary ‘boubouniera’ or tulle-wrapped Jordan almonds; and are still handed out at Siphnian weddings today.  You definitely don’t need a wedding to have an excuse to make these – but I made them for our wedding anniversary.  Not only are they wedding-related, but we spent our first wedding anniversary in Sifnos.  So these were a particularly ‘sweet’ treat for us!

Although many recipes say to coat them in confectioner’s sugar, this is not how they’re made in Sifnos.  Instead, they are coated in superfine sugar.  If you have superfine sugar, use it; otherwise, process regular sugar in your food processor.  If you do this first, you never have to wash your food processor bowl.  Set the sugar aside.

If you don’t have almond flour, process almonds in the food processor until they are the same grind as the almond flour.  If your almonds still have the papery peel on them, don’t remove it – they are even better this way.  You don’t want to use roasted almonds, though.

Either way, put the almond flour in the food processor.  Add the semolina and part of the sugar.  Process.  (Because my food processor is so small, I did this in two batches.)

Add the egg whites and vanilla, process again.  (I saved some of the processed dry ingredients, and put them over the top of the egg white and vanilla, so it was layered; I think this makes it easier to incorporate.  My food processor isn’t that great, though.)

Add in 1 tbsp of orange-flower water, and process.  Add another 1 tbsp orange-flower water, and process again.  At this point, it should be a thick, moist, and workable dough.

Remove it to a bowl.  If you do this in two batches, remember to put 1 egg white, half the vanilla, and 1 tbsp orange-flower water in each batch, and then combine in a bowl.

Spray or wet your hands with orange-flower water.  Form the dough into cones, about 1.5″ long, with a small depression at the thick end.

The usual word to describe this shape in Greek means ‘little pears,’ but as I was making them, I thought they looked like noses 😛  S came in while I was making them and said they were pyramids.  They can be whatever you like 😉

Place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake.

I baked mine 12 minutes, but really 8 minutes is enough.  Mine got a little brown on the tip and the bottom, which is not really ideal.  I guess I should have paid more attention….

If you live in this part of the world, you can probably get orange-flower water in either a regular bottle or a spray bottle – I have both and I think that if you use orange-flower water often (as I do), it’s nice to have both on hand.  If you can’t get it in a spray bottle, you’ll need a clean spray bottle to put your orange-flower water in so you can do the next step!

When they’re baked and cooled, spray them well with orange-flower water.   Roll each cone in the sugar to coat it well.   (I have a few of them sitting upside down in the bowl because I ran out of space – but within a few minutes, I didn’t have that problem anymore, if you know what I mean….)

Siphnian amydalota
makes 15-20 pieces
traditional recipe, adjusted from here

400g almond flour (or almond kernels, with or without peel, processed fully in food processor – not roasted)
100g fine semolina
200g white granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 small egg whites (or 1 large egg white)
1/4 cup orange-flower water

1.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  In a food processor, process 120g of the sugar to create superfine sugar (heavier than confectioner’s sugar).  Remove and set aside.  In a large food processor, combine almond flour, semolina, and 80g sugar.  Process.  Add egg whites and vanilla.  Process.  (If using a small food processor, put half the dry ingredients in, process, transfer to a bowl; process the other half of the dry ingredients, transfer to the same bowl; mix together well.  Put half the dry ingredients back in the processor with half the vanilla and one egg white; process with 1 tbsp orange flower water.  Transfer to a clean bowl.  Repeat with the other half.  Transfer to the same bowl.)

2.   With your hands sprayed / wetted with orange-flower water, form the dough into 1.5″ long cones with a depression at the wide end.  Set them upright on a wax-paper lined baking sheet.  If the dough starts to break apart, re-wet your hands with orange-flower water.

3.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool so that they can be handled.

4.  Spray the cones with orange-flower water and roll in the previously processed sugar.

5.  Store in an airtight plastic container.  They will keep several weeks.  Serve at room temperature.

Nutritional Information
per piece, assuming the recipe makes 16 pieces

217 calories
13g fat (1g saturated, 12g unsaturated)
22g carbohydrate
6g protein
3g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
4mg sodium (0% DV)
197mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, riboflavin, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Anise-almond biscotti with orange glaze
Almond flake cereal
Dark chocolate mousse

educators choose suicide

This is a brief follow-up to my recent post about suicide in Greece.

Two Greek educators – an elementary school teacher and a university professor – committed suicide this week.

The elementary school teacher, Savvas Metoikidis, was very politically active, taking part in protests and demonstrations over the past few years.  Aged 44, he hanged himself in a storeroom on Saturday.  Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the military junta’s coup d’ etat in Greece, and he chose this day to protest the current situation in Greece with suicide.  He died in the village of Stavroupoli, near here in the region of Xanthi, in Thrace.  A tribute to him says

Savvas was always in the front line of our struggles, at strikes, in the small and large daily battles inside and outside the schools, fighting for the right to education for our children, for free public education, for the teacher, the worker, the unemployed, the immigrant, for a different tomorrow.  Sensitive, socially aware, open to others, beside anyone in need, he never considered the personal cost in money, exhaustion, danger.  With fairness and truth, a traveler of the open horizon, always laughing, a person primarily of deeds and not words.  But his word was always his ‘sword.’  [my translation from here.]

He chose in the end to let his deeds speak for him.

The professor, Nikos Palyvos, PhD, a geologist and fellow WordPress blogger, was a lecturer at the University of Athens.  Although he had been technically hired to the position of lecturer there, austerity measures prevented his hiring from going through to payroll and he was held in limbo, unpaid, for two years, along with 800 other professors.  At the age of 38, he was no longer able to endure the privations of two years without income, and killed himself on Monday.

Dr. Palyvos specialized in the seismology of central Greece and the Peloponnese region.

___

The Suicide Helplines in Greece are 1018 and 801 801 9999.  They are 24-hour, 7-day toll free numbers and a caller can remain anonymous.  The email is help@suicide-help.gr.

a little Greek crisis humor

Of course there is such a thing! What kind of a crisis would it be if we didn’t have songs crying about it, plays mocking it, modern dance dramatizing it, visual art bursting with pain over it, graffiti condemning it, and viral internet articles making fun of it?  It’s always good to see the silver lining in any situation, wouldn’t you agree?

My very free translation (because otherwise it might not make any sense to those not familiar with Greece) of the anonymous article.

17 Reasons I’m Enjoying the Greek Economic Crisis! 

1. When I ask my boss for a raise, instead of giving me a dirty look, he busts out laughing. Not to mention that he fired two annoying coworkers.

2. A lot of my friends emigrated for a better future, so I’ll have new options of places to visit abroad, and they’ll probably even send me something for the holidays.

3. Gasoline is too expensive to buy, so I don’t use my car very much.  It will last longer, my heart health is improving, and I look flush in front of my friends when I suggest taking the car on the highway. And when we go to the beach in the summer, they chip in for gasoline, whereas in the past they would pretend to forget.

4. The cafes are full of unemployed scientists with two masters degrees, so while I drink my ouzo I can talk not about soccer but about black holes, at least.

5. As far as girls are concerned, you can be 100% certain that they don’t just want you for your money.

6. The man selling bagels outside the nightclub does a brisker business than the lady selling flowers to throw at the act, inside the club.

7. The coffee I win playing backgammon with my buddies makes up 2% of my salary which means that if I win 50 games, I’ve made a month’s salary.

8. They did away with social welfare.  Good:  I couldn’t stand waiting in line.

9. The future of our country is uncertain – we all need a little adventure in our lives.

10. I can be depressed without people giving me a hard time. They always said “What’s your problem? You have a job, a car, what else do you want?”

11. You never have to wait behind someone with two carts full of food at the supermarket. Or if you do, you can ask him to invite you to the party.

12. Everyone who saved money so carefully for years has lost it all, so I can feel better about myself for spending every euro as soon as I got it; instead of “profligate” I’m now considered “wise” because at least I got some use out of it.

13. There are no more weddings to have to attend, because when you elope, they don’t charge you for the decor.

14. Everyone has become an environmentalist, and they explain that they are spending less to “protect the environment.”

15. I like it when they say we’ll go back to the drachma, because I’ll finally be able to spend all those drachmas that I’ve been keeping as souvenirs, which drove me nuts when I didn’t have a penny and I figured that I had around €60-70 in drachmas, but the bank no longer exchanges them.

16. When I tell people I work two days/week, they look at me with sympathy and tell me to be brave, whereas in the past they were thinking “what a lazy ass.”

17. I will have a good story of suffering and misery to tell future generations about our country’s history, like we had to listen to about the military dictatorship and the German occupation. Otherwise they’d think of me as a total wuss.