Summer. For me summer is synonymous with Greek Islands, intense heat, blazing blue skies, Frappé coffee, giant sweet watermelons, ice-cold Amstel beer and night skies littered with thousands of stars. And Greek pork souvlaki with tzatziki and homemade pitta bread of course!!
Whenever we do find ourselves in Skiathos (our usual Greek summer destination) there’s one thing that my husband and I make a beeline for – the Time Out stand at the entrance of Papadiamanti Street for several orders of what is very affectionately dubbed as ‘dirty’ souvlaki. It’s not that the souvlaki or the meat is ‘dirty’ it is just such a guilty pleasure for us and something we usually only indulge in while on holiday.
What is ‘souvlaki’
Souvlaki comes from the word ‘souvla‘ meaning skewer, literally the rod on which meat is skewered. I sometimes see food bloggers using ‘souvlaki’ as a catch all-name for Greek meat dishes – if it’s not skewered, it’s not souvlaki, by definition!
Traditional Greek souvlaki is the perfect portable street food – meat grilled on a skewer and served on pitta bread with tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, onions and, sometimes, fries. Made well and served fresh, it is absolutely delicious – just the thing to eat after swimming all day (or after going out drinking all night).
Turns out it is also easy to make at home – the ideal barbecue food to share with friends. Copy the souvlaki stand method of having all the fillings and sauces prepared and laid out and everyone can fill their own pittas as soon as the skewers are off the grill or barbecue.
What meat to use for souvlaki
I have used pork, but you can use diced chicken or lamb with the same seasonings and method for your souvlaki. If you are using pork, pork shoulder steaks trimmed off most fat are a good choice.
If you are using chicken, then go for chicken thighs as chicken breast is a little too lean and will be quite dry if cooked in this way. Lamb is a really good choice as the meat is very succulent cooked on skewers.
Beef is probably the only meat I would avoid for souvlaki, if only because the flavour doesn’t mesh well with the tzatziki IMHO. But if you want to experiment I say go for it!
How to make tzatziki
The garlicky tzatziki sauce is an absolute MUST for traditional Greek souvlaki. Use good quality full-fat Greek yoghurt such as Fage Total – I find a lot of Greek-style yoghurts a little watery.
To make the tzatziki, coarsely grate half a large cucumber, removing the seeds first, in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let it stand for 5 minutes and then use a cheesecloth or your hands to squeeze most of the moisture out. Mix well with the yoghurt, garlic, mint and lemon juice and drizzle with olive oil. Cover and put in the fridge until needed to allow the flavours to develop.
What pitta bread to use
Greek pitta bread is soft and fluffy and sturdy enough to hold the souvlaki and all the fillings. It resembles naan bread – not the thin pitta bread with pockets. I haven’t been able to find good Greek pitta bread in the UK, although some have started appearing in major supermarkets.
Homemade pitta bread is very easy to make – simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl using a wooden spoon then briefly knead until the dough comes together. Leave to rise then divide into sections, flatten or roll out and pan fry. If you are serving a crowd you will need to double the pitta recipe below.
Assembling the souvlaki pitta
Prepare your pitta bread first as the dough will need time to rise. Pan fry all the pitta bread and keep covered with a slightly damp cloth until needed. Pan fry again to warm up or stick on a barbecue for a couple of minutes, brushed with a little olive oil just before assembling the souvlaki pitta. Do the same if using store-bought pitta.
Make your tzatziki in advance and keep chilled until needed. Have your sliced tomato, and sliced onion ready to go. I use a mandolin to slice the onion very thinly then mix it with plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley.
Spread a generous amount of tzatziki on your warm pitta bread. Add the meat (off the skewer) and top with the tomato and sliced onion. Sprinkle with a little paprika and wrap tightly, using greaseproof paper to hold everything together. Eat immediately!
More Greek recipes to try
MAKING THIS RECIPE OR OTHERS?
Greek pork souvlaki with tzatziki and homemade pitta bread
For the tzatziki
- 300 g | 10.5oz Greek Yoghurt I used Fage Total
- 150 g | 5.3oz cucumber about half large cucumber
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 large garlic clove minced
- 1 tbsp fresh mint very finely diced
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil to drizzle
For the pitta
- 300 g | 10.5oz pasta or white bread flour plus more to dust
- 100 g | 3.5oz Greek Yoghurt
- 150 ml | 5fl oz water
- 3 tbsp olive oil plus more to fry
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp dry active yeast
- 1 tsp salt
For the souvlaki
- 460 g | 1 pound diced pork shoulder steaks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice or wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp garlic granules
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp crushed chilli flakes
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 large vine tomatoes sliced thinly
- 1 large red onion sliced very thinly
- 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley finely chopped
- 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika to dust
Make the tzatziki
- Coarsely grate the cucumber (remove the seeds first if there are a lots) in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt.
- Let it stand for 5 minutes and then use a cheesecloth (or your hands) to squeeze most of the moisture out.
- Mix well with the yoghurt, garlic, mint and lemon juice and drizzle with olive oil. Cover and put in the fridge until needed to allow the flavours to develop.
Make the pitta
- Put the flour, sugar,salt and yeast in a large bowl. Briefly mix together using a wooden spoon.
- Put the yoghurt, water, olive oil and salt in a measuring jug and mix together. Add to the flour and mix together with a spoon until a shaggy dough is formed. Knead briefly with your hands until dough comes together. Cover and let it rise for an hour (if won't rise very much, that's ok).
- Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and divide into 6 sections. Form them into balls and flatten using the palms of your hands. Lightly roll out using a floured rolling pin.
- Keep the rolled out pittas separated with greaseproof paper so that they don't stick and covered with a damp cloth.
- Heat a large non-stick frying pan and wipe with a little olive oil. Pan fry the pittas for a few minutes on each side until brown spots appear. Set aside and cover with a damp cloth.
Make the souvlaki
- If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes so that they don't burn.
- Put the diced pork into a bowl and add the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic granules, salt, chilli flakes and cumin. Let the meat marinate for up to half an hour. Thread the meat onto the skewers.
- Heat a large frying or griddle pan and wipe with olive oil. Grill the skewers over high heat, turning frequently so that they cook evenly. Taste and season with additional salt (if needed) and pepper.
- Mix the sliced onion with the chopped parsley and have all your souvlaki fillings ready.
- Briefly pan fry the pittas to warm them up (or brush with a little olive oil and briefly grill on the barbecue) then add a little onion, tzatziki and tomatoes.
- Add the meat (off the skewers) and season with a little smoked paprika. Wrap the pitta around the fillings, using a little greaseproof paper to hold everything together if you like. Eat immediately!
- If you are cooking the skewers on a barbecue, brush with a mix of olive oil and lemon juice while grilling. They meat only needs a few minutes to cook.
- You can use chicken thighs or diced lamb instead of the pork if you prefer.