In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I team up with Steph Gaudreau to share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a...Read More
Greek Lamb Souvlaki
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. This time, we’re going on a Mycenaean picnic with Greek souvlaki.
It’s Greek To Me
I think we can all agree that meat on a stick is sublime. Consider Thai chicken satay, Japanese yakitori, Turkish döner kebabs, and even all-American corn dogs. They’re flavorful, have just the right amount of grease, and started as street food that’s made its way to dining tables around the world. The Greek contribution to the canon of kebabs? Souvlaki.
Choose a random street corner in Athens, and you’ll likely find a souvlaki stand or shop, known as souvladzidika, churning out skewers of marinated meat and vegetables roasted over an open flame. Charred on the outside and tender in the middle, the cubes of meat taste of warm Greek sunshine, grassy fresh herbs, and, it turns out, plenty of history.
Traditionally, Greek souvlaki is made from pork or lamb, but beef, chicken, shrimp, and swordfish have become popular as chefs and diners experiment with more of the bold flavors available in the islands. Served with french fries, pita bread, the cucumber-and-yogurt sauce called tzatziki, and, sometimes, ketchup, souvlaki is the ultimate Greek street food for tourists and locals alike.
And the locals have been eating souvlaki for a long time!
When Dartmouth archeologist Julie Hruby dug around Santorini, she discovered souvlaki trays — stone barbecue trays to hold hot coals and skewers—that were used before the 17th century B.C. She hypothesized that the trays were portable BBQ pits, “perhaps used during Mycenaean picnics.” (In case you’re not up on your Greek history: Mycenaean refers to the art and culture of Greece from about 1600 to 1100 B.C.)
Fast forward a few centuries, and you’ll find references to street vendors selling souvlaki on the streets of Constantinople. Constantinople! Founded circa 330. That makes souvlaki, by definition, a classic recipe.
The first modern souvlaki shop appeared in 1951 in Livadia, a town in central Greece. The legend of that Livadian souvlaki is so beloved, many modern souvladzidika in Athens take the name Livadia to pay tribute to the kebab’s origins.
Should you find yourself lucky enough to be frolicking about the Greek islands, souvalki can be found in both tiny eateries and finer restaurants. Order “ena kalamaki me patates” to get a plate of souvlaki with potatoes instead of pita. And as you browse the shops and food carts to find your perfect skewer, look for meat that’s evenly caramelized with a few crisp edges—that guarantees the ideal ratio of meat to fat (which means plenty of flavor and a tender bite).
Should the spirit move you, feel free to yell out an exuberant Opa!
Greek Lamb Souvlaki
Serves 4-8 | Prep 10 minutes | Marinate 2 hours | Cook 20 minutes
2 pounds lamb leg or shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes (You can also use beef or pork.)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
garnish: cherry tomatoes, lemon slices, fresh bay leaves, extra-virgin olive oil
Marinate the lamb. In a large bowl, toss the lamb with the oil, lemon juice, thyme, and garlic. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
Prep the kebabs. Thread the meat on skewers and add garnishes in alternating patterns. Brush the skewers lightly with olive oil.
To cook on a gas grill: Preheat the grill on high with the lid closed until very hot, about 10-15 minutes. Grill the skewers uncovered, turning every 1-2 minutes, until lamb is cooked to desired doneness, 7-8 minutes total for medium-rare to medium.
To broil in the oven: Place the skewers on a broiler pan and broil, flipping once, until the cubes are evenly browned but still pink in the middle, about 2-4 minutes per side.
Tastes Great With…
Tastes great with Baba Ghanoush, Tahini Dressing, Onion and Parsley Salad, Turkish Chopped Salad, or Oven-Roasted Cauliflower Rice. You could also make it a feast by rolling some Stuffed Grape Leaves and Grain-Free Pita Bread.
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