Why It Works
- A simple vinaigrette works double-duty as both the marinade for the chicken and dressing for the salad.
- If you don't have an outdoor barbecue, a grill pan on the stovetop does the trick.
Souvlaki is an awesome Greek dish that comes from the Greek word souvla, meaning "skewer." It's made up of succulent char-grilled skewers of fish or meat such as lamb, beef, or chicken and is served with a garlicky yogurt tzatziki sauce, pitas, and a tomato and onion garnish. Greece is still on my list of places to visit, but I have sunk my teeth into the versions served up at festivals, diners, and amazing Greek fast food joints in...would you have guessed Melbourne? (Australia happens to boast the largest population of Greek expats.)
Chicken souvlaki is a prime example of Mediterranean cooking that's fresh, healthy, and (most importantly!) loaded with flavor. It's also easy to pull off at home whether you've got an outdoor grill or not. (I have to shell out $20 to rent the barbecue area at my place, so I pulled out my handy grill pan for this recipe.) While there are a few steps to the dinner, almost all of the work can be done while the chicken marinates. All you have to do at the end is quickly cook up the chicken and serve.
After researching some recipes, I loved the idea from Real Simple of whisking up one base vinaigrette that could be incorporated into both the chicken and the salad. I did the same here. Before skewering, chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast are marinated in a garlic, zingy lemon, puckery red vinegar, and fresh oregano dressing (a rest of about two hours really gets the flavor in). Later, a reserved portion of the vinaigrette (don't mix the two!) gets tossed into the crisp red onion, tomato, cucumber, Kalamata olive, and feta salad just before serving. I'm too lazy to salt the cucumbers or tomatoes for the fresh salad, but I always salt the cukes for the tzatziki sauce. Salting draws excess liquid out of the cucumber, which keeps the yogurt sauce thick and flavorful, not watery. I also highly recommend using only Greek yogurt. Its thick consistency is incomparable to the regular stuff. And don't forget its richness belies the fat content—Greek yogurt is often found low-fat or fat-free.
How to eat souvlaki? If you order it out, everything is piled up in the pita, to be eaten out of hand. For me, that equates to a slobbery mess that no one wants to see, so I end up pulling out the fork and knife. Of course, to dive into everything separately is a fine way to go as well, as the salad is definitely hearty enough to be a side dish.
For the Chicken:
5 tablespoons fresh juice from about 3 lemons
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 medium cloves garlic, grated (about 4 teaspoons)
For the Tzatziki Sauce:
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (see notes)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium clove garlic, grated (about 1 teaspoon)
1 cup Greek yogurt (see notes)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
For the Salad:
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 small red onions, sliced thin
1 medium cucumber, seeded and sliced into thin half moons
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
6 ounces crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped parsley
In a medium bowl, whisk lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Place chicken cubes in a separate medium bowl. Mix in grated garlic and 7 tablespoons of dressing. Toss chicken to coat evenly, cover, and refrigerate to marinate for about 2 hours, tossing occasionally. Set remaining dressing aside for salad.
While the chicken marinates, make the tzatziki sauce: Place cubed cucumbers in a strainer set over a bowl. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let sit to drain, about 30 minutes. Gently pat cucumbers dry with paper towel, place in small bowl, and mix with garlic, yogurt, and dill. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Skewer chicken pieces on 8 to 12 skewers. Discard used marinade. Heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Place chicken skewers on grill (or cook in batches on grill pan) until well browned and internal temperature registers 155°F (68°C) on an instant-read thermometer, turning evenly to cook on all sides, about 5 minutes total. (Adjust temperature of grill if necessary.) Remove chicken to a serving platter and let rest 3 minutes. Meanwhile, briefly grill pitas and keep warm.
Just before serving, prepare the salad: Whisk olive oil into reserved chicken marinade. Add tomatoes, onions, cucumber, olives, feta, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve skewers with salad, pita, and tzatziki sauce. Remove chicken from skewers to stuff into pitas with sauce and salad.
Don't skip the cucumber salting step and use Greek yogurt for a thick and creamy tzatziki sauce. If Greek yogurt is unavailable, let regular yogurt drain in a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth set over a bowl or the sink until thick and creamy, about 1 hour.
Once you've marinated the chicken, discard the marinade. Whether using an outdoor grill or grill pan, brush the grates or pan lightly with vegetable oil before cooking chicken.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 26g||33%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||39%|
|Total Carbohydrate 57g||21%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||15%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 23mg||116%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|