Grilled Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki
The foundation of a great kitchen is the tools and supplies on hand. This includes knives, pots and pans, and condiments–salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise–the basic ingredients you use regularly.
This includes, of course, herbs and spices.
What I’m about here is herbs—the ones you use all the time, and don’t even think about until a recipe calls for a teaspoonful. You reach for the little bottle by the stove and—oops!—there’s not enough for the recipe.
My solution? Grow your own. Many of you already do, and if so, you know that there’s not much better than an omelet
with a few snips of fresh chives to complete the dish. Homemade marinara with fresh parsley and basil? A snap, and so much better than store-bought.
Growing your own herbs is easy, cheap, and rewarding—in the sense of pride you feel from adding homegrown ingredients to your food, and for the compliments you’ll get from guests who don’t know why that simple red sauce tastes better than theirs.
People have all kinds of ways to grow their herbs. Pots on a windowsill and sections of vegetable gardens are common. We grow ours in large pots outside our kitchen door. A little water every day or two in the summer—not too much, herbs like to be a bit on the dry side—and a little planning, and you won’t be buying expensive bottles of herbs at the grocery store any more.
Grow any herbs you like; most will flourish here. The trick to successful herb gardening is to harvest often. Cut plants back when they outgrow the perimeter of the pot. Cut large bunches, tie with string and hang in a warm, dry, dark place—I dry them in my garage—and forget them for three or four weeks. When they are dry and crumbly to the touch, break them up in a large bowl, remove and discard the stems, and place them in the little bottles you saved when you ran out.
And here’s an added bonus: most herbs overwinter nicely in a garage. Simply put the pots on a shelf in a cold (but not freezing) garage, near a window if you have one, give them a little water every couple of weeks, and in the spring, after the freeze is gone, trim them back to about six inches, and most will come back, probably stronger.
So what can you do with these fabulous herbs? How about a festival of Greek summer treats?
Souvlaki (Lamb or Chicken)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 lemons, juiced
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, trimmed of most (but not all) the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes or
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (similarly prepared)
Place all the ingredients in a zipper-close food-storage bag, mix well, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight. Place the meat on soaked wood or steel skewers, and grill over direct heat, turning several times, until done, 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice or couscous, and with this fabulous yogurt dipping sauce:
32 ounces plain yogurt or 16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 large peeled, seeded and shredded English cucumber (or two regular ones)
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (you decide how many)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Place the plain yogurt in cheese cloth over a large bowl and strain in the refrigerator overnight (not necessary if you use Greek yogurt). Mix the cucumber and garlic with the salt and drain over a bowl for a half hour (this will remove moisture from the cucumber). Blend all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Serve with the grilled souvlaki and a Greek salad.