Wednesday, 13 August 2014


A few days ago I was watching a re-run of Jamie Oliver in Athens, and was utterly seduced by the blazing blue skies, bustling moped lined streets, white pillared Parthenon and (if I had smell-o-vision) herb and lemon scented air of the markets.

I've been to Athens.  In sixth form the school organised a Greek tour as part of our Classics studies (the English and History kids also came along for the ride) and my overriding memory of our stopover in Athens is getting hideously lost with a couple of the other girls on our way back from the Parthenon, ending up in the middle of the red light district, getting propositioned, running and getting horribly drunk back at our hotel when we eventually found it to ease the trauma.  At 4am our teachers came down to tell us to shut up and sent us to bed.
Needless to say, the subsequent hangover meant that I didn't exactly have much of an appetite for proper Greek food the next day and the 17 year old me missed out on what should have been my first introduction to Souvlaki.  I didn't get a chance to taste it on the rest of the tour unfortunately.

Jamie's programme made me remember that I still haven't tried it, so I looked up his recipe (why try and fix what doesn't appear to be broken?) and whizzed some up for a quick and healthy work night dinner (on a day when I was hangover free I hasten to add!)

I have a few friends from Uni who live in Athens, so I'll be intrigued to see how this measures up with the Souvlaki they can get on every street corner throughout the city!
Souvlaki is essentially just Greek fast food.  It's the Mediterranean equivalent of a Big Mac or a fish and chip supper and I know which one I prefer!  It's finger food you can eat on the run, and there are many different versions out there.  Kalamaki is found in Athens and involves the meat being marinated in lemon juice overnight, Gyros is similar but the meat is cooked on a rotating spit.

I made bog standard, simple Souvlaki - quickly marinated skewers of pork meat served in toasted pita breads with charred peppers and chilli's and tzatziki.

It's really quick and easy, fresh tasting and light and surprisingly filling - one pita was enough and I had a number of skewers left over for us have cold with rice the next day.  The peppers add a zingy bite to the meat, which is succulent and tender and the tzatziki is cool and soothing, a nice counterpoint to the lemon and the charred peppers and griddle flavour of the pork.

I know I have already said this, but this dish tastes fresh - there is no other word that can describe it quite so well!

So you need: 
  • 3 sweet pointed peppers 
  • 2 big (so not very hot) red chilli peppers
  • 8 pita breads, to serve   
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked  
  • 1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped (stalks and all)  
  • red wine vinegar 
  • Greek extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 lemon, to serve 

For the kebabs 
  • 800 g of pork.  I got a knuckle shank which is a cheaper cut and then deboned and removed the skin myself but your butcher can do this for you.  It's a tasty cut which works well in this dish and much better value for money than a pork loin. 
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint 
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • juice of 1 lemon 
  • 100 ml good-quality olive oil 
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated 
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 pinch sea salt 

For the tzatziki 
  • ½ large cucumber 
  • 200 ml fat-free natural yoghurt 
  • 1 small clove garlic, peeled 
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried mint 
  •  1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar 

Start with the sweet peppers and chilli peppers.  You want to blacken them all over by scorching them.  You get to use a blow torch for this bit which is always fun! If you don't have one, just use the naked flame from your gas hob or put the peppers on a very hot, dry griddle or frying pan, turning regularly until scorched all over and the flesh is soft and pliable, then place them in a bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm for at least 10 minutes.
Now prepare your pork by removing the skin and deboning it, and cutting it into cubes.  Mix the pork with the rest of the kebab ingredients in a bowl and leave it in the fridge to marinade for as long as possible.  Overnight is good but 30 minutes should do the trick.
Return to your peppers and chillis and carefully peel the skin away from the rest of the flesh - it should come off really easily now that they have steamed for a little while.  Deseed them as well and remove the stalks, then chop into fine strips.

Mix the pepper and chilli's with the chopped up mint leaves and dill, some red wine vinegar and olive oil and some seasoning.  Taste it and adjust the flavours if needed to suit you.  Leave it in the fridge until you are ready to eat, then remove and add some lemon to garnish.
Grate your cucumber, then squeeze as much of the excess water out of it as you can over the sink.  Mix the cucumber with the yoghurt.  Mash the garlic with some salt into a paste in a pestle and mortar and then add that to the yogurt and cucumber mix then add the dried mint and red wine vinegar.  Taste and adjust as needed and serve with a glug of olive oil in the top.

When you are ready to eat thread the pork onto skewers and cook on a griddle or BBQ for about 4 minutes on each side.
Toast the pitas (in a toaster is fine), then serve with the tzatziki and peppers and some slivers of lemon as well as any other salad bits you want (lettuce and pickles are traditional) and I also went with some slices of griddled halloumi for an extra salty bite.
Allow people to assemble at the table and dig in!  Layer up your pita's and then drizzle the tzatziki over top and finish with a squeeze of a lemon wedge for that extra hit of zing.  Make sure you have a napkin to hand, or lean over your plate as you bite in - the pork juices and yoghurt have a tendancy to make this quite messy, but it is so worth it!
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