Tastes of the Med: Maker’s Souvlakia

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A collection of recipes cooked over a grill with wood coals here in Cyprus wouldn’t be complete without including this unique Cypriot specialty. Souvlakia, wood-grilled cubes of pork, exist in different guises here in the Med; variations of it can be found using lamb or chicken in Lebanon, Syria, Greece and Turkey. It’s always served with pita– and that’s where the similarities end.

In Lebanon, skewers of lamb are served with platter-size, ultra-thin pita. In Syria, the pita is a touch thicker and the size of a dinner plate, with either chicken or lamb seasoned with a variety of spices. In Greece, smaller cubes of pork seasoned with dried oregano are grilled on a wooden stick. These are served wrapped in pocket-less pita, together with either tahini or tzantziki–that thick, supremely luscious dip made of yoghurt and cucumber. Alas, the Cypriot pita is thicker than all the rest (with the pita of the Paphos district on the west side of the island reigning supreme). What the island lacks in geographical size is made up for in the size of its pita. Cypriot pita is the king.

What is Maker’s Souvlakia? Souvlakia is part of any Cypriot table for a party, holiday or get-together. It also is just one of the many courses that makes up a meze, a gastronomic experience found in taverns throughout the island. When not accompanied by the numerous plates of dips and dishes found in meze, souvlakia really is best when it takes center stage. With Maker’s Souvlakia, it’s the main event. The name is our designation, derived from the Greek ‘souvlakia tou souvlitzi’ or ‘souvlakia maker’s souvlakia.’ On any given night across the island, you can smell the smoke from the chimneys of the souvlakia makers who supply hungry residents of the island with Cypriots’ most-favorite form of ordering out.

What you get is a warm pita, grilled until crisp, cut open and then stuffed with a mixture of sliced cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers dressed with generous amount of lemon. To this is added the warm souvlakia and then it is closed and wrapped in paper. This is where the magic happens. The juicy wood-grilled meat and its smokiness infuses its flavor into the salad, which is warmed ever-so slightly. As if this weren’t enough, another treat awaits: the juice of the pork drips into the bottom half of the pita, giving the pita bread below a whole other dimension. Y.U.M.

When you have your own wood grill or you’re fortunate enough to have a myGrill™ Chef SMART grill at your fingertips, ordering souvlakia from the neighborhood souvlakia-maker is not even a consideration. Here at Cerines, our mantra is that you can always make anything better at home. You control the quality, the seasonings, the fat and the sugar so that you don’t overindulge. Souvlakia is no different. Follow this recipe and it will become an instant classic. You may never order anything out ever again.

Maker’s Souvlakia

serves 6

Fire up the wood grill.

Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil:
1, 4 kilos / 3 lbs pork cubes

Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes so that the flavors blend. Skewer the meat and place on a baking sheet, covered. Load the skewers onto the pre-heated grill (see ‘Tips’ below).

In a food processor fitted with a disk (preferably 2 cm), process:
1/2 head of green cabbage
3-4 small cucumbers

Remove to a large bowl. Add:
3 ripe tomatoes, cut into small chunks
juice of 1 large lemon

Finely chop:
1 medium red onion
generous handful of parsely

Cut into wedges:
2 lemons

In the last five minutes of cooking, toast until crispy on the exterior yet still soft:
6 oblong pita breads

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ASSEMBLY:
1. Cut parchment paper into six large sheets, large enough to accommodate the filled pita.
2. Carefully pierce the side of the pita with a small knife. Run a knife down the length of the pita, exposing the pocket.
3. Fill the cavity with a generous helping of cabbage salad.
4. Take a skewer and slide of the pork, using the top half of the pita to slide the souvlakia off.
5. Add onion, parsley and tuck in a wedge of lemon.
6. Close the filled pita with the top half. Wrap in a sheet of parchment. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before consuming.

Luxury Touches:
•Add Cerines’ Crispy French Fries to the pita after the onions, parsley,  lemon.
•Add in pickled food items like: pickles, capers, etc.

Tips for success:
•Ask your butcher to cut pork side and pork loin into 3,5 cm/ 1 1/4 in. cubes. Save the bones; these can be grilled and enjoyed as an appetizer grill-side.
•When cutting open the pita, be careful. The steam trapped inside is very hot.

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Tips for using the myGrill Chef SMART™ Grill:
•Use the thin stainless-steel skewers with cool-touch handles.
•Use the Auto function and choose “Kebab”. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the souvlakia have developed a golden color. If you think it needs a bit more time, it is done. As long as the internal temperature (use an instant read thermometer if you are unsure) measures 58°C / 138°F, it is safe to eat. You want them to be moist and juicy, not leathery and difficult to chew.

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