About Great Food

Sophie Grigson


Never has a kebab tasted so good. We'd boarded the train 36 hours before in rain sodden Amsterdam and spent a sleepless night in an over crowded compartment. Then, as we rolled into the first station in Greece, our spirits lifted-the sun was blazing, the platform was noisy, and hawkers called out all kinds of odds and ends, from newspapers and chewing gum to sizzling, smoky, herby kebabs. Leaning out of a window, we shouted along with the best of them, gathering those delicious provisions and a few moments of warm sun on our heads. As the train rumbled on towards Athens, we settled down to what seemed like a veritable feast.

Souvlakia are the ubiquitous Greek kebabs, characteristically, but not inevitably, made up of small cubes of pork or lamb that have been marinated with cilantro and rígani, the remarkable Greek dried oregano. Make sure that the meat has time to absorb the flavors of the marinade (24 hours is ideal), and broil them very close to a high heat so that the exterior cooks to a dark, caramelized brown while the inside, close to the skewer, remains succulent and juicy. Serve them with Tzatziki, the characteristic Greek sauce-cum-appetizer of yogurt mixed with cucumber, garlic, and mint.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 21/4 lb boneless leg or shoulder of lamb or pork
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons rígani or dried oregano
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 2 bay leaves, roughly torn up
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Tzatziki:

  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup thick Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the pork or lamb into 3/4 inch cubes, trimming off any gristle or fat. Mix all the remaining ingredients and then pour over the meat. Turn so that all the pieces are coated, cover, and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, but preferably longer (up to 24 hours) in a cool place.

To make the Tzatziki:
Put the diced cucumber into a colander and sprinkle with the vinegar and a little salt. Let it drain for 1 hour. Then pat dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel. Mix with the rest of the Tzatziki ingredients, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve either lightly chilled or at room temperature.

Back to the Souvlakia:
Soak wooden skewers in cold water for an hour or two and then thread the meat on the skewers. Don't push the cubes tightly against one another, but leave a minuscule gap between each pair, so that the heat will curl round every cube, cooking each one evenly. Preheat either the broiler or the barbecue (or even in an oiled broil pan placed over a high heat for about 3 to 5 minutes) and then cook the kebabs close to the heat, turning and brushing occasionally with the leftover marinade until they are crusty and brown. Serve sizzling hot with a wedge of lemon and the Tzatziki.


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