What’s not to love about a Greek gyro, a sandwich of seasoned, marinated lamb, tomato, lettuce, and cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce stuffed inside a soft pita?
The traditional method for cooking the meat employs an electric vertical rotisserie on which layers of sliced and marinated leg of lamb are stacked. After cooking for hours, the meat is shaved with a long slicing knife, revealing pieces with crisp exteriors and moist interiors infused with garlic and oregano.
We wanted to translate this recipe for the home kitchen. Surprisingly, using ground lamb — which we formed into patties and grilled — was easy and came close to reproducing the texture of rotisserie lamb. A modified panade, or wet binder, of pita bread crumbs, lemon juice, and garlic gave our patties a sturdier structure and fuller, more savory flavor.
For a crisp outside and moist inside, we browned our patties on the grill until a crust formed on each side. Then we grilled the pitas as well to warm them and add a little smoky flavor. If using pocketless pitas, do not cut off the tops; instead, use a portion of a fifth pita to create crumbs.
GRILLED GREEK-STYLE LAMB PITA SANDWICHES
4 (8-inch) pita breads
½ onion, chopped coarse
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Tzatziki (recipe follows)
1 large tomato, cored and sliced thin
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (½ cup)
Cut top quarter off each pita bread. Tear quarters into 1-inch pieces. (You should have ¾ cup pita pieces.) Lightly moisten 2 pita breads with water. Sandwich unmoistened pitas between moistened pitas and wrap stack tightly in lightly greased heavy-duty aluminum foil; set aside.
Process pita bread pieces, onion, oregano, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in food processor until smooth paste forms, about 30 seconds; transfer to large bowl. Add ground lamb and knead with your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into ball, then gently flatten into round disk about ½ inch thick and 2½ inches in diameter.
For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal (4½ quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s).
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place patties on hotter side of grill, cover (if using gas), and cook until well browned and crust forms, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer patties to paper towel-lined plate, cover loosely with foil, and let sit while heating pitas.
Place packet of pitas on cooler side of grill and flip occasionally until heated through, about 5 minutes. Using spoon, spread ¼ cup Tzatziki inside each warm pita. Divide patties evenly among pitas and fill each sandwich with tomato slices, ½ cup shredded lettuce, and 2 tablespoons feta. Serve immediately.
Start to finish: 40 minutes; makes 4 servings.
Tzatziki is a traditional Greek sauce made from strained yogurt and cucumber, as delicious eaten as a dip for raw vegetables as it is dolloped over grilled chicken or lamb. To make our own classic version, we started by shredding a cucumber on a coarse grater, salting it, and letting it drain to keep any excess liquid from watering down the dip. Greek yogurt gives tzatziki its pleasant tang and richness, but before stirring in our drained cucumber, we enhanced its flavor with minced fresh herbs and garlic. Using Greek yogurt here is key; do not substitute regular plain yogurt or the sauce will be very watery.
1 (12-ounce) cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and shredded
Salt and pepper
1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint and/or dill
1 small garlic clove, minced
Toss cucumber with ½ teaspoon salt in colander and let drain for 15 minutes.
Whisk yogurt, oil, mint, and garlic together in bowl, then stir in drained cucumber. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving. Makes about 2 cups
Nutrition information per serving: 437 calories; 214 calories from fat; 24 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 94 mg cholesterol; 882 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 31 g protein.