Monday, March 14, 2011

A long but passionate Gyro tribute

Me, the dork, making love to my gyro.
    I absolutely love Gyros. I am passionate about them and I am always on the search for that perfect gyro. The one that has the perfect balance of well seasoned shaved meat, juicy tomatoes and flavorful onions, cool and refreshing tzatziki sauce, hot right-out-of-the fryer fries, all wrapped up in a delicious hot crispy-yet-chewy pita bread that's been generously lounging in a pool of butter and/or olive oil before placed on the flat top. 

   And the ingredients mentioned above should be the only ones that ever constitute a gyro. Pita bread, meat, tomatoes, onions, fries and tzatziki. That is IT. Fries weren't actually always considered a staple but have sure become one in the past 3 to 4 decades or so. I would say about 95% of places in Greece now add a few fries inside the gyro and of course who could say no to that?! 

Eat me!!
   My personal rule when it comes to Gyros: You can subtract ingredients if you wish, but never add.  They don't need any tweaks or added flavors to it. They are perfect just the way they are. Don't even get me started on the whole lettuce business I used to see back in the States. Ugh! There are some things in life you just don't do. You don't kill, you don't steal and you don't put lettuce in a gyro!! (Also, American gyros are nothing compared to the ones you will encounter in Greece but that should go without saying...) Anyway, lettuce on a Gyro should be considered a sin, punishable by eating only lettuce for the rest of your existence. You simply just don't go there. 

   Sadly, I must be a minority in this philosophy because I've noticed a few new-age gyro joints offering a plethora of ingredients and condiments you can add to your "gyro". I once had the guy behind the counter ask if I wanted *ketchup* or *mustard* in my damn gyro (and I am pretty sure I saw MAYO lurking in one of the 9th pans!!!!). Are you fucking kidding me?? Are you seriously asking me this questions right now?! I just about threw a fit right then and there like my name was Christian Bale on the set of "Terminator". 

    Well, I learned my lesson and from then on, I made it a rule never to set foot in a gyro joint where they offer ketchup and mustard as a gyro condiment. Sadly, this trend is a growing one and I'm left to fend for myself in the cruel dog-eat-crappy-gyro world. I just stick to the little hole in the wall places that have been there since before I was born and you can visibly see the grease stuck on the kitchen wall tile. They know what's up.

    Here in Greece, gyros and souvlakia(a souvlaki is actual marinated chunks of meat on a stick or in a pita, a gyro is basically fat-and-meat shavings on a pita), are big business and for 2 Euros a pop, it's one of the cheapest- and surprisingly healthiest- fast food choices. I'm usually against fast food as a whole but I do make an exception for gyros every once in a while. What can I say, they hold a special place in my heart. <3  
Truly a work of art.
   Despite avoiding the modern places who are virtually clueless to the art of Gyros, still not everyone knows how to make that perfect gyro. Much to my great sadness and disappointment, it can be very hit or miss. Just like any other crowd pleaser (burgers, pizza, etc.), you've got the places that know how to do it just right and the ones that simply don't. Nothing results to a major stab to the epicurean soul than getting that long awaited gyro in your hands and then tasting that dry, stale ass cardboard of a pita, 4 pieces of minuscule proportion flavorless meat, two-day old tomatoes and onions, cold fries that might as well have been fried that night before and a tzatziki sauce that resembles more of some cheap brand yogurt with some vague hint of garlic funk in it. Excuse me while I go cry in a corner for a minute...and then set fire to the place that served this junk!!! A little piece of me dies every time I encounter such a sad, pathetic and shameful rendition of true work of culinary art. People "creating" such atrocities should be fined, heavily.

 Luckily, I have found the solution to this ongoing problem of mine. Either stick to the places you know do a gyro justice...or...make them yourself at home! It's the easiest thing ever. And here's how:

  • Grab a pack of pitas from your neighborhood super market or then nearest international or Mediterranean foods store. A good trick to getting pitas crispy-yet-chewy is to soak the pitas in a bowl with olive and a little bit of water. The oil gives the pitas flavor and the water helps crisp up the pita as it evaporates when the pita is under the cooking heat. Melted, un-clarified butter has the same effect.

  • Grab some onions and tomatoes I'm sure you have lying around, slice them up to the size you like and season them lighly with some salt. You can also sprinkle a little bit of parsley on them too.

  I made these pork souvlakia with my uncle 
  the last time I was visiting Athens. The 
  grilled onions and tomatoes where out 
  of this world!
  • Buy some meat, red meat is preferred but some people love chicken gyros so if that's you, then go for it. Whatever your meat of choice is (lamb would be the tastiest ;-] ), grill it or roast it. For example, you can buy some pork, cut it into cubes and pass them through some skewers and grill them (much like kebabs) or you can get some lamb shoulder and roast it whole. Cook it to well done (it really is the best temp for this meal) and shred it or finely slice it like gyro meat. It's all up to you!
  • Whatever meat you end up choosing, you'll get the best flavor out of it if you marinate it first (preferably over night too if you can). The marinade can be pretty much whatever herbs and spices you like. I like to keep mine simple. I usually marinate with some olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, thyme and oregano. If i want some added kick to it, I'll add some chili flakes in the marinade as well.
  •    French fries are optional when we're talking home made gyros. If you want to go through the whole journey of peeling, cutting and frying the potatoes, then go for it! I usually opt out of going through all that trouble at home, unless I'm in truly high spirits (and have the time)!    
  •  The last thing on this list is the tzatziki and it's pretty much as "tricky" as it's gonna get in the whole gyro making process. The ingredients are few and simple yet I always come across people who seemed to be as clueless about the makings of tzatziki. So, here is a "guideline" to how to make it =]
The makings of some Kick-Ass Tzatziki
4 servings

You'll need:
250 gr. Strained plain yogurt 
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced 
1 medium sized cucumber, seeded grated and strained
olive oil, to taste
white wine vinegar or lemon juice, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
dill, finely chopped, to taste

A few side notes: 

Nom nom nom
 - For a serving of 4 people, about 250 gr.of yogurt should be satisfactory. This amount is enough for you and your 3 friends to bless your gyros with a few dollops of some tzatziki deliciousness.

- Dill is considered optional in tzatziki. I've seen many restaurants who serve it without but for me, it then just seems like is missing something. Dill adds such a fantastic flavor (not to mention aroma!) to the sauce that it's just a shame to not include it. It's like the only kid in the class not invited to the birthday party. It's just not nice. 

- Mint is also known to be added. I have personally never tried tzatziki with mint but if you have, let me know how it is!

- The key to the whole process is tasting as you go. If you feel like the sauce could use a little bit more garlic, then by all means, add some! It's all about adjusting it to your personal preference. Star off with smaller than suggested amounts and work your way up from there.

Now, go blast that favorite music of yours and let's get started:

1. Once you've prepped all your ingredients, add the yogurt to a bowl. Add the garlic and cucumber. Make any adjustments you want. If you feel like the garlic flavor is too much or there's just too much cucumber for your liking, just add more yogurt!

2. Add the rest of the ingredients. Like a mentioned before, start of with a dash of this and a dash of that and slowly build your sauce. Mix all the ingredients with a rubber spatula.

Gyro on a plate,
also called "merida".

3.  Make one more final taste test and you're ready to serve!

**I apologize I have no picture to provide. Once I make some tzatziki again, I'll make sure to add it on here**.

   Once you've made the tzatziki and your meat is cooked, you're pretty much set to go. Warm your pitas, add the meat, veggies and tzatziki sauce to it and get grubbin'! Also, something else that really add an extra kicks to gyros is a sprinkle of sweet paprika over it's contents!

  Alright, this concludes my long ramble about gyros. It had to be done. I felt like it was my duty to inform the public about my guilty pleasure, the proper gyro condiment etiquette and how to make a delicious treat like this at home! And remember: Don't you dare put lettuce in it!!

   Καλή σας όρεξη!!

Gyros I had made in Culinary school about 5 years back.


  1. Yummy! I usually make tzatziki with mint and I find it pretty good although the first time I tasted it, I thought it was dill and was surprised that it was actually mint.

  2. kala mimi eisai apaixth!!!!!
    mou anoixes toso thn orexh pou trexo apenanti na paroooooooo

  3. You rock! And i don't even really like gyro...I only have one comment. At the beginning of your gyro love letter, you "peacefully" protested about the use of ketchup and mustard in some places.I feel obligated to inform you that this is very common in Thessaloníki.
    And just to piss you off I have to confess that I actually like mayo in my pita. I just imagine you head exploding right about now ... !!!!

  4. Frosso...don't ever talk to me. Ever again. lol You're lucky I love you! If you can handle my constant references to how many years have passed, I guess I can handle your mayo-in-a-gyro blasphemy.

  5. Wow, I am salivating with the gyro picture!!! Looks delicious.