It has to be said, one of our favourite things about Greece is the food. The traditional dishes and unforgettable flavours that conjure up blissful memories of warm summer days, blue skies and long lazy afternoons by the sea. If you’ve ever holidayed in Greece, I’m sure you will have tried recreating these comforting plates of nostalgia at home. Here to bring a little Greek into your kitchen, are my tried and tested Greek recipes.
Sit down to eat in any Greek restaurant and you’ll find chicken souvlaki on the menu. This simple, but delicious dish comes served on a skewer, with a generous helping of tzatziki or wrapped in warm pitta bread along with chips and salad as a takeaway feast. It’s hard not to fall in love with the salty flavour, the zest of lemon and the smoky char grilled taste. I serve an oven cooked version of the traditional dish onboard for our guests. You may remember from our previous post Day Trips from Nidri, where I spoke about my lifelong struggle cooking under a grill the size of a postcard. And after trying numerous methods of grilling chicken, I admitted defeat and opted for the oven instead!
The recipe I’ll be sharing with you today is my boat adaptation of chicken souvlaki. I’ve actually become a huge fan of this method over using the grill, it leaves the chicken super juicy and packed full of flavour. However, at the bottom of the post you will find a few links to some of my favourite recipe sites that use the more traditional cooking method.
The history of Souvlaki or Kalamaki
Derived from the Greek word souvla meaning spit, souvlaki is said to date back to ancient Greece. Even today, during Greece’s Easter celebrations, families and friends come together to enjoy delicious whole lamb cooked on an open spit. For centuries, people have enjoyed this dish and the method in which it is traditionally prepared. Surprisingly however, souvlaki was not widely sold across Greece until the 60’s. The first recorded shops appeared in 1951, in the small town of Livadia in central Greece.
Kalamaki, is a synonym of souvlaki which is used mainly in Athens and the surrounding regions. It is said, that if you were to order kalamaki in the north of Greece, they would serve you a straw as a joke on the Athenians or southerners. Kalamaki also means straw.
How to make Souvlaki
Recreating these tasty trademark skewers at home is super simple. Pair them with a generous helping of tzatziki and a fresh Greek salad and you’ll be transported back to those hazy Greek days in no time! A few top tips when making your souvlaki; never add the lemon juice more than three hours before you plan on cooking your skewers, it’ll make the chicken tough. Don’t scrimp on the seasoning and always use the best quality olive you can get your hands on! Marinate in the fridge overnight for flavour perfection.
- 4 good quality chicken breasts, sliced length ways
- 4 cloves of garlic, bashed and finely chopped
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon, just the juice
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- Freshly ground salt and black pepper
First things first, get yourself a Tupperware box or a good sized bowl that can go in the fridge overnight. Crush and finely chop your garlic adding it to the bowl. Take your chicken, and using a sharp knife, place your hand on top of the breast holding it in place, carefully slice the chicken horizontally. You should end up with roughly, 4 large slices. Place these with your garlic and cover with olive oil. Give it a really good mix.
Next, sprinkle over a tbsp of oregano along with a generous helping of salt and pepper and give it another good stir. Repeat until you have an even coating of oregano and seasoning. Then just cover it up and pop it in the fridge overnight.
The following day, squeeze the juice of one lemon onto the chicken, stir and place back into the fridge until you are ready to start cooking.
Preheat the oven to 200°, gas mark 6. Place your chicken in an oven proof dish. It must be big enough so that the chicken is in one single layer. Make sure to scrape out all the juices from the marinade into the dish! Oven cook for 18-20 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked through and pipping hot. Serve immediately with lemon wedges, Greek salad and freshly made tzatziki. If there’s any leftovers these are lovely enjoyed cold the following day alongside rice and salad.
On the Grill
It’s really easy to adapt my oven method to the more traditional way of cooking souvlaki. Instead of slices, cut the chicken into 2-3cm chunks. If you’re using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in cold water before you start the cooking process. Grill on a high heat, rotating the skewers every now and then until you have a nice even colouring on all sides. Make sure the chicken is cooked through and pipping hot before serving!
I really hope you enjoy this recipe and it brings a bit of the Greek holiday vibe into your kitchen. Continue reading for my delicious tzatziki, which makes the perfect accompaniment to this dish and don’t forget to look out for my next Greek recipe post. Kali Orexi!
Tzatziki is a real staple in Greek cuisine. This deliciously creamy yogurt based dip, is usually served alongside warm pitta breads as a starter or accompanying olive oil fries and salad as a meze. It’s also not unusual to find a generous helping with your lamb or fish and is always a favourite with our guests at lunch time. Whilst on board during the summer I make a huge amount of tzatziki, I believe fresh is best, so during the high season I can be making it almost daily. Luke often jokes, you’ll always find cucumber sieving in our fridge!
The history of Tzatziki
It’s hard to say for sure where the beloved dip became the dish we know today. However, it’s origins are said to have began in India, where it started life as raita, a spiced yogurt dip. It’s believed, raita was introduced to Greece through the Ottoman trading routes and over time the spices were removed and the flavours were adapted for the region, and so becoming the delicious dip we know today. As well as tzatziki in Greece, many similar recipes derive from the same traditional South Asian dish and are still enjoyed throughout the Middle East and the Balkans.
How to make Tzatziki
Making deliciously authentic tzatziki at home couldn’t be easier! My top tips to remember are; always remove the watery middle of the cucumber and strain for as long as you can, I often leave mine overnight. Always use full fat Greek yogurt and never forget to marinate your garlic! I love garlic however, if you prefer a milder flavour, just reduce the amount of cloves you add and of course, always use the best quality olive oil you can get.
- 500g full fat natural Greek yogurt
- 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- A small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
- A small bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- Half a cucumber, grated
- Juice of one lemon
- Tsp of dried mint
First, scrape out the watery middle of the cucumber and discard. Grate your cucumber and place in a sieve over a bowl adding a sprinkle of salt. Set aside in the fridge overnight or for as long as you can. Make sure to occasionally stir and press the cucumber into the sieve to help squeeze out the liquid.
Next, crush and finely chop your garlic and put into a small dish, I normally use a ramekin for this. Cover with the olive oil. You don’t want too much oil, I usually find that the amount it takes to just cover the chopped garlic is quite enough. Set aside for a few hours at least as this helps reduce the bitterness of the garlic and allows it to infuse nicely with the oil.
In a medium sized bowl mix the yogurt, mint and dill together, along with half the lemon juice and the teaspoon of dried mint. Cover and place in the fridge until your garlic oil is ready. I find retiring for a glass of wine about now usually helps to pass the time.
By now, your olive oil and garlic combo should be smelling rather lovely and be ready to add to the yogurt mix. Once folded through, remove your grated cucumber from the fridge. Most of the liquid should have drained out but you can always give it an extra squeeze in a paper towel to get rid of any excess. The longer you sieve it, the less there’ll be. Combine with the yogurt, season with salt to taste, adding extra lemon juice if needed and there you have it. A delicious, authentic taste of Greece at home.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Greek recipes and feel inspired to bring a little Greece into your own kitchen. I will be updating this post regularly with other delicious Greek favourites to keep your taste buds on holiday, so stay tuned and look out for links on our social media pages! Kali Orexi!