We’re experiencing an unusually long heatwave in London. It normally only lasts a day or two but this one has been going on for at least a couple of weeks. I’m not complaining. I love it. And it’s interesting how it affects one’s appetite – not only how hungry (or not so hungry) you feel, but what you fancy eating. I decided to make a summer dish of chicken souvlaki with some tzatziki on the side. Traditionally in Greece you would eat souvlaki with chips – the Greeks serve chips with everything! – but you might also find the grilled pieces of meat wrapped in flat bread.
In a week when our Queen of Cooks, Mary Berry has come to verbal blows with Gregg Wallace (of Masterchef fame) over deep-fat fryers in the kitchen, I can only say I’m with Mary on this one and there’s no deep-fat fryer in my kitchen (and there’s not been one for at least 20 years) and I can only wonder what decade or even century Gregg lives in in his mind, proclaiming that the Brits live on spam fritters and chips! Really, Gregg. No! Mary is definitely right on this one: deep-fat frying isn’t healthy (though of course the occasional bowl of chips or some other deep-fried food is OK as a treat). The closest I come to chips in my house is cutting potatoes (often a mix of white and sweet) into chip shapes, tossing them in a little olive oil and roasting them in a hot oven. But … OK … I’ll admit it: if I was in Greece, on a beach, ordering souvlaki (as I did in Crete a couple of years ago), I’d order a bowl of chips to go with it. At home tonight, I was going for the healthier approach – but also what I instinctively fancied.
I chose to make freekeh salad because I was talking about freekeh with Jonathan last night as he was reading The Palomar Cookbook, which was published only a week ago and I bought him for his birthday on Monday. It’s brilliant. I need my own copy! The Palomar is one of my very favourite restaurants and all my favourite dishes are in it. They talk about freekeh in the book; this glorious smoked green wheat has become one of my favourite grains. For the freekeh salad recipe I served tonight click here. The slight difference to my version this evening was that I didn’t add any tomato but loads of fresh parsley instead.
I knew basically what souvlaki was – marinated pieces of meat, skewered and grilled or barbecued – but thought I should look at a few recipes. I decided to go with Rick Stein’s from his Venice to Istanbul book (with very slight changes). He makes his with pork, which is the most common meat used in Greece, and he says this version comes from Cyprus and is known as Kontosouvli, which apart from the usual olive oil, lemon juice and oregano, has chilli, cumin and smoked paprika too. My tzatziki recipe is a Jamie Oliver one from Jamie Does. The freekeh salad recipe is my own!
- 450g chicken breast
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon hot chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 small clove garlic, crushed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ large cucumber
- 200ml Greek yoghurt
- 1 small clove garlic, crushed
- ½-1 teaspoon dried mint
- 1½ teaspoons red wine or cider vinegar
Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.
Put the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, whisk well together, and then add the chicken pieces to the marinade and mix well.
Try to marinate for at least an hour (in an emergency, you skip this and just use straight away). I left mine to marinate for a few hours, having put it all together in the afternoon. Meanwhile, make the freekek salad (click here for recipe).
To make the tzatziki, coarsely grate the cucumber into a sieve over a bowl. Then add a couple of pinches of salt. Mix, then squeeze with your hand to get out as much liquid as you can – throw the liquid away. Tip the cucumber into a clean bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Jamie puts in a heaped teaspoon of dried mint but I felt that was too much and next time I’ll only add about half. Probably best to add half and see if you like it that way – you can always add more if you prefer.
I prepared everything in the afternoon and put in the fridge, so that come supper time, all I had to do was thread the chicken pieces onto skewers.
I grilled them under a hot grill until nicely browned, but of course it would be great to barbecue them too.
I loved Rick’s take on souvlaki with the added chilli, cumin and smoked paprika, giving the meat a touch more spiciness than usual. Marinated like this, and cooked quickly under a hot grill, they stay beautifully moist. It was a perfect supper for a hot summer’s evening – and brought back lovely memories of beautiful Greece.