Chicken Pitta with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish

Pinteresting Monday

Greek Yogurt

It seems that everyone has joined the whole Greek yogurt craze now in the States which is great for me because it was only available at specialty food stores for the first few years I moved here. Greek yogurt is yogurt that has been strained to remove the whey (the lactose/milk sugars) which is why it is thicker and has a unique sour taste. This process means it can be used at high temperatures in cooking, is higher in protein and is easier on the stomach making it perfect for those of us who are lactose intolerant. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that all yogurt in Greece and Cyprus is strained (or called ‘Greek yogurt’ for that matter!) You can buy both regular and strained yogurt in the supermarket. Strained yogurt can be made with sheep’s milk (more traditionally found in the villages- and my favourite!) or cow’s milk, and is present at every meal like a condiment; especially good with grilled meats and roasted potatoes. Furthermore, you will find it on dessert menus served with chopped walnuts and drizzled honey.

In the states when we say Greek yogurt we are really just referring to the cow’s milk and strained variety . Even then, not all “Greek” yogurts in the States are made equal! A lot of the american brands, I am sad to say, don’t really capture the same thick texture or signature sour flavour which makes strained yogurt so delicious. Fortunately, FAGE (pronounced fa-yeh)

fage

is a Greek dairy manufacturer who has set up shop in the United States due to the increase of demand from Greek settlers. Their more authentic strained yogurt is easily available everywhere, even Walmart! This is the only strained yogurt I really like and it’s the one I recommend for today’s Pinteresting Monday (and any!) recipe; Chicken Pitta with Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Relish.

 I am always a bit dubious about trying a recipe that is supposed to be ‘Greek’ because it will sometimes mean it’s not authentic! And the following recipe, although delicious, is completely unauthentic even in its name as I will shortly explain. However, with a couple of tweaks this is a favourite at our house and definitely worth sharing.

Grilled Chicken (deconstructed) ‘Tzatziki’ from Style at Home by Tracey SyvretTzatziki is a Greek dip made with thick strained yogurt, minced fresh garlic, salted cucumber and dried mint or dill. This recipe is not for Tzatziki but for a cucumber relish without yogurt which is why I have adjusted the name to be more culturally accurate!

Chicken Pitta with yogurt and cucumber relish

For chicken marinade: I skipped this whole section and just bought Lemon Pepper Rotisserie Chicken from the grocery store! Saved me hours and made this an easy weeknight meal.

  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice + 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For cucumber relish: This relish really is flexible. I take out ingredients that either my husband or I don’t like, and substitute the parsley for dried mint.

  • 1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup seeded, finely diced tomato
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 6 tbsp coarsely chopped and pitted black olives
  • 4 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley 
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions
1
 To prepare chicken marinade, whisk all ingredients except chicken breasts together in a bowl. Combine marinade with chicken breasts in a large zip-lock bag, seal and gently shake to evenly distribute marinade over chicken. Place in refrigerator and chill for 2 to 4 hours
Again, I just used rotisserie chicken so I skipped this whole bit and saved myself some time and aggro!

2 Meanwhile, prepare the cucumber relish. Lay cucumber slices in a sieve placed over a bowl and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Leave for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until cucumbers soften and their liquid begins to drain into the bowl. Stir occasionally. This is definitely worth the wait however, if you forget to do this in advance (like I often do) it’s not the end of the world! I just let it drain while cutting up the other veggies and chicken by which point the cucumbers are fine.

3 Combine the tomato, onion, olives, parsley, dill, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir in drained cucumbers, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Again- although it makes the relish wonderfully delicious over time, I have skipped this when in a hurry and just enjoyed the leftovers all the more the next day!

4 Grease grill and preheat to medium-high. Remove chicken from zip-lock bag and discard marinade. Grill chicken breasts until cooked through, about 15 to 18 minutes. Remove chicken from grill, let rest for a few minutes and slice thinly on the diagonal. (again I just chopped up rotisserie chicken) Lay chicken slices on top of each pita round and divide relish evenly among them. Garnish with a little extra yogurt and serve.  I ALWAYS serve this with plain Fage yogurt to keep it closer to the Tzatziki idea and because it just tastes awesome! 

Chicken Pitta with yogurt and cucumber relish

What I truly love about this recipe is that it’s like eating a healthy chicken gyro in the middle of the week without any of the guilt but all of the flavour and comfort! Plus it’s really easy and quick with the swap for store bought rotisserie chicken.

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Trick and Treat!

My family is originally from Cyprus where olive tress are literally everywhere. It is not unusual to be walking down the street in a city neighbourhood and come across black spotted heavy laden branches hanging over the “sidewalk” from somebody’s front garden (they don’t really believe in sidewalks much so it’s more like the edge of the road!). In fact, my parents (who now live in Cyprus) used to have them growing in the front of their house and had a few friends who volunteered to collect and press the olives into fresh olive oil. If you’ve never had freshly pressed olive oil before, you are seriously missing out. It’s so smooth and rich that you are almost tempted to just skip the bread and use a teaspoon.  (I am not being hyperbolic, I have actually thought about doing this! and maybe even done it!).

A poor man’s food coming in from a day working in the fields would often be olives and bread so it is no wonder that somewhere in history, the two were combined and eliopita (olive bread) was created. Every household and bakery in Cyprus (and Greece) has their own version of this marvelous marriage of olives and  bread, served warm and fresh. Some people chop the olives, leave them whole, add onions, don’t add onions, use fylo or puff pastry or bread dough. None of these versions are wrong or unauthentic because each bares a regional/cultural/familial mark, and more importantly, they are all usually extremely delicious making it impossible to find your favourite. 

The ghastly truth is that I actually don’t like olives! There, I have said it and will no doubt be shunned from all respectable Greek communities around the world! But it’s true. I have tried desperately to like them to the point where I still always eat one whenever our paths meet in the hopes that my taste buds will have somehow adjusted since the last time. (I even ate one as I was preparing this recipe over the weekend and it still made me shudder in horror!)

But yet, for some unknown reason, when olives are remastered into eliopita form, something magical happens. My taste buds are tricked, confused, lost and suddenly I am transported to heavenly food bliss! Resisting is futile! I can’t explain why this happens, or what it is about the combination that makes me go weak at the knees but I have fallen in love with so many versions of this traditional Greek bread.

My Grandmother (Giagia) makes an Eliopita that my whole family devours. We make a massive 14×14 round pan each time and it is usually gone within a couple of days because any time one of us (cousins, spouses, and children) pass through the kitchen, no one can resist a slice. It really is that addictive. Giagia’s version is one she has modernized over the years (as you will see by the list of ingredients) so I can’t tell you it’s the real Cypriot old village deal but I promise that it is easy, delicious and a big crowd pleaser.

Giagia’s Eliopita:

2 onions chopped finely with 1tbsp salt

4 cups of self rising flour

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 bunch of cilantro (fresh coriander) chopped

3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups pitted black olives

1 can of orange soda

Salt the onions and lay aside to drain excess water for about at least an hour. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then rub in the olive oil until it is like breadcrumbs.

Make sure you use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, it really makes a difference.

There is no rule about the olives you use. Obviously the more particularly wonderful they are, the tastier the Eliopita BUT this recipe is so good, that even the canned not-so-great varieties are masked in complete yummy-ness. I tend to chop my olives up but you can use them whole if you prefer. Add the olives, onions, cilantro (fresh coriander) to the flour/olive crumbs.

and mix together with your hands

Then add the special ingredient- orange soda.

I love to watch the bubbles all fizzing away.

 I know this sounds like an odd touch but you don’t taste the orange, it just helps make the dough light and adds a lovely sweetness that accentuates all the other flavours. Don’t panic if your dough/batter is a bit sticky- it’s meant to be that way.

Add to a greased, parchment lined pan.

Wet your hand and then smooth out the dough so it’s spread evenly.

Bake in a 350 F oven for about an hour. It will be golden brown and a toothpick should come out clean when it’s done.

It’s the appealing aroma of freshly baked bread and olive oil gently wafting around your kitchen (and pretty much the whole house) that make this recipe so unbelievably comforting. Waiting for an hour after being entranced by this smell means that the hardest part about the whole recipe is waiting for it to be cool enough to eat once it comes out of the oven!

Blood is Thicker Than Water

Being raised as a Greek-Cypriot, even in London, you know and have met almost everyone you are even remotely related to on both sides of your family. Every Uncle and Aunt, your parents’ Uncles and Aunts, all your 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins and even some fellow villagers of your grandparents who are related to you from 8 generations ago, are a familiar part of every day conversation in your home! Family is important to us Greeks. It is our identity in the community, (you are ‘so and so’s relative’). And it’s not just part of your history but also your present as you soon learn when going to weddings and christenings every weekend as a child and have a hard time remembering these people’s names, their relation to you, and why they all seem to instantly know who you are and want to tell you how much you’ve grown while violently pulling at your cheeks! Every family vacation doesn’t involve some glamorous trip to the south of France, or a cultural exploration of the ancient Roman ruins in Italy. Instead you will go to Cyprus and spend two weeks travelling from town to town, seeing every relative in every corner of the island, being ‘cheek-pulled’ and force-fed copious amounts of grilled lamb and pork.

As a result, relatives come to mean something more to you than what most Westernized families experience. My 1st cousins, for example, are like my brothers and sisters. Not in the way that just means, oh I kind of like them and they’re cool. They are a part of my soul. The meaning ‘blood is thicker than water’ perfectly describes my deep, deep love for them to the point where it seems as though they form a part of my actual physical being.

One such member of my 1st cousin clan is Lizzi. Being 2 years older than her, I was the big ‘sister’. In all fairness, I was not a very nice one which is heartbreaking to think about now because she looked up to me at the time and I didn’t realize that it was a privilege and honour. She would follow me around and always want to copy whatever I did, and whatever I wore, and whatever I played with so I would get all diva-esque and annoyed! Despite these moments I in our very early years, there are many more great fun memories like jumping from couch to couch trying not to fall into the ‘Sea of Carpet’ and reveal our true identities as mermaids (yes we were obsessed with the movie Splash!), or we were damsels in distress needing saving (being the bossy older child, I was usually the one being rescued while Lizzi and her brother had to climb ‘Mount Staircase Banister’ to save me from the ‘Landing of Terror’!). We wrote and made up ‘plays’ every weekend much to the dismay of our parents who would have to sit through every living room performance acting enthused as if we were budding Shakespeareans in the Globe Theatre at the pinnacle of our career! We only lived in London together until I was 8 at which point they moved to another town and then later we moved countries and were miles apart from my Aunt’s family. However, this did not affect our deepening love for each other and by our teens, Lizzi and I  were the bestest of friends, talking for hours about every worry, adventure and little secret plan of mischief behind our parents’ backs. To this day, from across the pond, we will talk about everything we can in the space we are allotted  Planning a phone conversation is nearly impossible, not only because of the 6 hour time difference, but because we usually have 4 hour conversations and only just begin to scratch the surface of what we want to share.

When she got married in 2011, I had the honour of decorating her wedding cake. Someone else had prepared the layers, Liz had her design and accessories in hand, and it was my task to bring it all together once I arrived from the States. Of course what made this even more special was that I had my mum as an assistant and for those of you who have read why I began decorating cakes, you will understand the significance of sharing this experience with her. Although this cake was not the usual hours of work other wedding cakes have been, it was definitely a labour of love for my little sister, Lizzi, on her special day.