Chicken Dinners: Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce and Greek Salad


[Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

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 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. It's 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.

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Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce and Greek Salad »