You will not find a more analytic article on the net. Many Greek professionals have not even thought about all these.
ingredients for 12 souvlakis (cost about 1,5€ each)
- 12 just grilled souvlakis (meat)
- 12 homemade pitas
- Red but non smoked pepper
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes
- 2 medium onions
- Parsley (optional)
- Top quality hot mustard (optional)
- Homemade spicy tomato sauce (optional)
For the pitas
- 200g hard wheat flour
- 200g soft wheat flour
- 80g whole wheat flour
- 20 ml EV olive oil
- 350 ml water
- 5g salt
- 10g sugar
- 5g dried yeast
For the spicy sauce
- 1 small onion
- 1 garlic clove
- The liquid part of 1 can of whole tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon honey
- EV olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cloves
- 4 allspice berries
- 4 juniper berries
- 1 piece of cinnamon stick
- 20 black pepper grains
How did you find the skewers? Did you like them?
Today, we conclude our tribute to the most famous of all Greek food preparations with the making of pita and something even more important than it. The souvlaki (with pita) theory.
A parenthesis. I have already told you that there is a confusion about the word souvlaki. In Athens souvlaki means the whole preparation with pita (the skewer alone is called kalamaki). In Salonika and the northern part of the country, on the other hand, souvlaki is the skewer, while the whole preparation is called pita or, more often, sandwich. Neither of these definitions are wrong.
So, how a perfect souvlaki (pita) must be? Which are the ingredients that it must contain and in what proportions? Is tzatziki a good addition or not? And many more.
Let’s begin our lesson.
a) The tzatziki. I am not a traditionalist. Or, to say it better, I think that tradition has nothing to do with the use or not of some ingredients. In my opinion, if an ingredient makes a preparation better, we must use it as we are cooks and not historians.
The traditional Greek souvlaki does NOT contain tzatziki. The absolutely best souvlaki makers in Athens (Panerithraikos at Kifisia, Kostas at Mitropoleos street, Kostas at Agias Eirinis square, Volvi at the Athens market etc.) or kebab makers (Savvas and Thanassis at Monastiraki, Tomas at Neos Kosmos) don’t offer it, not even as an option!!!! The don’t have tzatziki at all!!!!
I am as well totally opposed to using tzatziki in our souvlakis. TOTALLY. What is tzatziki made of? Yogurt, garlic and ……… cucumber. Why to add them in our souvlaki? Maybe for the “aroma” (???) of the cucumber or the “texture” of the yogurt.
NO. Adding tzatziki to the souvlaki, we DESTROY it, turning it to muddy and soggy. To avoid.
b) Some souvlaki sellers for tourists and students (the same who use meat and pitas of very low quality) add fried potatoes, thinking that this way they make the souvlaki more “attractive” and “porn”. I just tell them to fuck off.
OK, tourists know nothing about souvlaki and students usually do not have money to eat more souvlakis so they add fried potatoes, in order to satisfy their hunger, but this practice must be forbidden even at prison kitchens.
There is nothing worse in a souvlaki than adding fried potatoes. Nothing. It reminds me of a very reach American who was eating at the next table of mine in a fish resto at Menorca, who had ordered a Dom Perignon champagne and put in it ……….. Sprite.
c) Tomato is one of the basic souvlaki ingredients. But any tomato?
NO. Tomatoes for souvlaki must be RIPE and RED. SOFT and JUICY and not hard and green. And of good quality.
Some bastards souvlaki sellers keep pre-cut tomatoes in the fridge and they take them out when the previous box of cut tomatoes is over. The result? An awful souvlaki with very hot pita and meat and very cold tomato. NO, don’t ever do it. Tomatoes must be at room temperature.
It is even better to pre-salt the tomatoes about 30 minutes before consuming them. Pre-salting the tomatoes helps us raise their aroma, we must do it almost always when we use them.
The amount of tomato in each pita must not be excessive. Two small pieces are enough.
d) The onion is also a basic ingredient. Usually (but not always) the white ones are sweeter than the red ones, so the choice is yours.
The onion must be cut neither too thick, nor too thin. And it must be cut the very last moment. Allium family roots (onion, garlic, leek, scallion, spring onion etc.) produce bad odour when exposed to the air. That’s why our breath stinks when we eat already made souvlaki, the sellers cut the onion in advance for convenience and keep it in the fridge.
Some people (I also do it sometimes) add a little bit of parsley with the onion. I like it, the souvlaki is more aromatic this way, but this something that you will decide.
f) The texture. This is the most important point. A good souvlaki (with pita) must be so soft that it can be eaten even by a …….. toothless. I mean it. The meat must be juicy and soft and the pita must be very airy and tender.
Many souvlaki makers tend to prepare hard pitas, advertising them as “oil-less”. After a few years they search for a new job.
I repeat, a good souvlaki must be so soft that it can be eaten even by a toothless. You must keep in mind this advise. If you want to eat something less caloric, eat a salad and don´t fuck your souvlaki with stupid solutions. You will not become slimmer, by avoiding 20 or 30 calories of the pita frying oil.
So, let´s prepare some airy, like Michael Jordan, pitas.
We start by sifting the flours and stirring them with the yeast and the sugar. We add the water and the salt and we put all the ingredients in a mixer bowl.
We knead in the stand mixer for 6 minutes at low speed and 6 more at medium. We add the oil and we knead for one more minute. We cover the bowl with cling film and we wait for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the room temperature and having in mind that, ideally, this should be around 23 Celsius degrees.
After the first quick rising, we cut the dough in 12 equal pieces. I know that it is difficult, but good airy pitas require high hydrations.
We grease very well with oil 3 baking sheets and we form 12 discs of dough. Each one must weigh about 70 grams. We put them on the sheets, we flatten the dough by hand, we sprinkle a little flour on their surface and we let them mature for 3 hours, covered by a damp cloth. After this time, we dip our fingers in flour and we extend the discs to about 18 cm diameter. We also make some “holes” in the dough, like we do when we prepare focaccia. The holes are very important, as they “hold” the juices of the souvlaki in them and they don’t let them slip to the bottom of the preparation. We cover with a cloth and we let it rest for 40 minutes.
We preheat the oven to 250 C degrees and we bake the pitas for 3 minutes, not more. Now, the pitas are ready, we can keep them in the fridge for about a week or we can freeze them and keep them for months.
But if we want a perfect souvlaki we must use them at once.
We heat a skillet well and we brush the pitas with oil. We fry each pita for about 1 minute turning it over, often. I repeat that we don’t want the pita to be crispy, we just want to create an external “pointed” skin.
We start building our souvlakis, always having the part with the hollows on top.
g) We finish with the sauce.
The sauce is a relatively new arrival in Athens and it is not so often used. The use of sauce started in Corfu and nowadays it is the most trendy ingredient of a top souvlaki.
To prepare it we begin from the spices. We add bay leaf, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries and pepper in a coffee grinder and we turn them into a powder.
In a cold pan we add some olive oil and the garlic clove, whole and crushed. We bring to heat and, when it turns turn pale, we discard it and we add the onion, already cut in tiny pieces, as well as the spice mix. We lower the heat and we gently cook the onion for some minutes, till transparent.
We add the tomato to the pan, we cover with a lid and we let the sauce simmer for at least half an hour. We seek for a thick sauce, which will stick on the meat, so if required we reduce its volume, cooking it for a few minutes more, without the lid.
We salt the sauce and we set aside.
e) The assembling of souvlaki. We must always finish the assembling of the whole preparation with salt and (when we don’t use mustard or sauce) red not smoked pepper. If we don’t do this, the souvlaki will be less tasty and pleasant.
So, in the pita we put the meat and we continue with the tomato, the onion (with or without parsley), the mustard or the sauce, the salt and optionally the pepper.
We avoid putting the sauce or the mustard in touch with the pita in order to keep the pita “dry” and reduce the possibility of “breaking” during eating.
The use of mustard may seem strange to some readers, but the best souvlaki makers in Athens use it as an alternative to the sauce. Mustard is a great pairing for pork and onion, so I also consider it a decent solution for the souvlaki.
Very important is the closing of the souvlaki, because if it stains our shirt or trousers it will fuck the moment and it will reduce the enjoyment.