Greek food and I had a shaky start, which is hard to imagine given how much I love it now. My first exposure to a fully-loaded gyro - hours into my freshman year, University of Wisconsin-Madison, with my just-met roommate - completely freaked me out. So much garlic, with yogurt on meat (wha?), and juices running everywhere...my inner North Dakotan fainted a little bit. Where are my parents? Who is this girl I'm living with? Why doesn't she shave her legs? What am I doing? I wasn't ready for feta cheese, not yet.
But after a couple of months of cardboard dorm food, and far too many pizzas, I started to crave food with...flavor. I fantasized about going home for Thanksgiving dinner when it had never meant anything to me before. I started exploring flavors outside of the Americanized Mexican-Italian-Chinese food I'd grown up with. On a whim, I succumbed one hungry afternoon to the intoxicating smells from the falafel cart outside the UW Bookstore and ate the best sandwich I'd ever tasted. Emboldened, I hiked back to the gyro place and got hooked on Greek salads and that damn sandwich, tender and spicy and dripping with yogurt, yeah.
And then...then I met Mary Pappas, almost 20 years ago, and my love of Greek food was cemented. Mary would bring Greek treats - made by her mother-in-law and Yaya (grandmother) - into our office to share. We would shamelessy attack and devour them. Our staff birthday lunches often took place at It's Greek to Me, or Christo's, or Gardens of Salonica, and as a group we would eat obscene amounts of our favorite mezze, namely warm pita slathered with taramosalata, melitzanosalata, skordalia, and htipiti. When I was pregnant with Nathan, Mary threw me a baby shower and had her mother-in-law and Yaya prepare all the food (I'll never forget that party, The Best, sigh)...spanikopita, pastitsio, meatballs, salad, baklava, on and on...
So many happy memories. Which now include my son! Was it the amount of Greek food I ate at the end of my pregnancy, including that shower? Whatever the reason, he loves it, and I'm thrilled. Sharing a favorite dish with a child is an incredible experience. Overall, we have many more misses than hits, but Greek food in general, and souvlaki (below) in particular, are now among his favorites. Garlicky grilled pork, wrapped in warm pita bread and topped with tzatziki, the yogurt sauce that scared the crap out of me way back when.
The marinade is delicious with chicken too. Serve with rice instead of bread to change things up. Make extra marinade and toss with tomatoes, zucchini, and red onion - skewer and grill alongside the meat. Use leftover sauce to make this tomato-feta sandwich for lunch the next day - also fabulous. Lots of variations - have at it!
For more pork grilling ideas, and a whole menu for a Memorial Day barbecue (pork ribs, crunchy-creamy coleslaw, & strawberry shortcakes), check out my post this week for Dara & Co./Minnesota Monthly magazine. I've got grilling pork on the brain - but only because the options are deliciously endless.
Note: you can marinate the pork for up to 24 hours before griling.
2 lbs. pork tenderloin or pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for the bread
3 Tbsp. red wine
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. coarse or Kosher salt, plus more for the bread
several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
2-4 loaves of pita bread (I like the flatbread loaves, not the pocket bread; I actually use the 365 brand of naan at Whole Foods)
Tzatziki (recipe below)
Put pork into a large Ziploc bag. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over pork. Seal bag, massage the marinade into the pork a bit, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Heat grill. Lightly brush or rub olive oil onto both sides of the pita bread. Sprinkle one side lightly with salt. Skewer pork loosely on metal or soaked bamboo skewers (discard Ziploc and marinade). Grill pork for 5 minutes on each side, or until pork is cooked through (do not overcook for optimum tenderness). Transfer skewers to a cutting board and let rest while you grill the bread. On the still-hot grill, lay bread on the grate. Grill for a couple of minutes on each side, just long enough to leave grill marks and soften/heat the bread. Remove pork from skewers and serve with the warm bread and tzatziki.
Makes about 1 cup
1/3 c. grated peeled cucumber
1 Tbsp. grated onion
1 Tbsp. minced fresh dill
2/3 c. Greek-style yogurt (Fage is an excellent brand)
salt and pepper to taste
Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl and chill. Keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator.