I’ve always been drawn to feta.
It’s mesmerizing to me how one beautifully briny ingredient can have such an impact on the overall flavor profile of a dish. Long before I developed this infatuation for feta (or in-feta-uation, if you will), I had a love for what I simply labeled “Greek food.”
It was a while before I came to realize that the term “Greek” was actually a very broad description of the cuisine I so adored. I became familiar with the zesty fare in my youthful years when my mom discovered a local cafe specializing in sumptuous Mediterranean flavors.
One evening a week, like clockwork, she would bring home a container of the world’s smoothest, most inexplicably velvety hummus from Neomonde, the small cafe in my Carolina hometown that served Lebanese-inspired fare.
Before dinner, my mom, dad, sister, and I would congregate around it in the kitchen, admiring its glistening olive oil crest, and dunking all kinds of crackers within its lemony pool of love. Occasionally she would also bring home herby tabbouleh dotted with cucumbers and diced tomatoes, tangy tzatziki, and impeccable, imported feta.
As I eventually made my way out of my parents’ home at the ripe age of 22, I had to learn to fend for myself when my feta cravings hit. I moved to our city’s downtown area, which also happened to house Neomonde’s original location.
The first time I wandered into the international specialty foods shop, I was enthralled by the radiant dishes that lined the display cases. One in particular caught my eye: a parchment-paper-wrapped puffy pita bread swaddling smoky chunks of chicken, herb salad, and tzatziki.
I added feta.
Every mouthful of this vibrant handheld was savory, juicy, salty, and tangy.
When I put together the recipe for this gyro, my head spun with excitement as I believed I had created the perfect adaptation that included everything I cherished about this cuisine.
A must-have was the tomato-cucumber mixture, often referred to as Israeli salad. The Indian version of this accompaniment (known as kachumber) is comparable, though it often includes chili peppers, giving the chopped condiment a fiery zing.
As I munched my way through the messy flatbread and a citrusy stream of olive oil slid through my fingertips and down to my elbows, I wondered to myself, “Wait, what did I actually just make?”
I realized that of all the times I had frequented Mediterranean eateries, Nemonde included, I had ordered both gyros and souvlaki as if they were interchangeable dishes. I decided to dig a little deeper.
At this point, I was already sporting tzatziki smears from cheek to cheek, so it’s not like I was going anywhere anyway.
Here’s the deal:
The term “gyro” refers to meat that spins endlessly on a “gyroscope,” while a souvlaki is the diminutive of “souvla,” a smaller spit/rotisserie.
So, gyro – a borrowed term from the Turkish word döner that means “to turn” – denotes circling meat on a large vertical rotisserie, whereas souvlaki is essentially skewered cubes of meat that are grilled.
If you’ve spotted the terms döner kebab, gyro, and souvlaki being used synonymously on American menus, don’t get tripped up. They’re likely all delicious meat-stuffed pitas. But if you travel to Greece, you might want to get your terms straight.
If you want to create something similar to all of the above in your very own home that you can customize to your delight, I suggest giving my recipe for chicken gyros a go. You don’t even need a fancy spit like a street vendor might have. Just some skewers, and a hefty amount of patience while your meat marinates.
The longer the better. Trust me on this.
Oftentimes, when I’ve ordered gyros from a restaurant or even from a street cart in a big city, there’s a touch of tartness and crunch missing and I have to request feta. At home, I can pile on double cheese, load up every bite with pickled beets and turnips, and even treat myself to an extra ramekin of tzatziki.
Souvlaki it to me, baby. One bite of these gyros and you’ll be a doner.
Okay, I even impressed myself with that one.Print
Craving a fresh oomph of flavor? Wrap your hands around this garlicky chicken gyro erupting with pickled veggies and herby tomato salad.
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 2 lemons), divided
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 8 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into short strips
- 1 cup diced cucumber (1 small)
- 1 cup diced Roma tomatoes (about 2 medium)
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
- 4 large pitas, lightly toasted
- 15–20 wood skewers
- 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Pickled Beets and Turnips (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the white wine, 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, oregano, thyme, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken strips and toss to coat. Marinate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
- In a small bowl, mix together the remaining parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil with the cucumber, tomato, scallions, and mint. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Soak the skewers in water for 20 minutes, and then thread the chicken onto each one.
- Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.
- Grill the chicken until lightly charred, about 6-8 minutes per side. When the chicken has cooled slightly, slide it off the skewers.
- Spread each pita with a generous layer of tzatziki and then top with even portions of chicken, feta, cucumber-tomato salad, and pickled beets and turnips. Serve immediately.
Nutritional information below does not include tzatziki or pickled vegetables.
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Grilling
- Cuisine: Greek
Keywords: gyro, chicken gyro, Greek, Mediterranean, feta, tomato
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Slice the Chicken, Chop the Herbs, and Prepare the Marinade
Trim off any excess fat, and slice the chicken thighs into thin, short strips.
Grate or mince the garlic, and chop the fresh herbs.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the white wine, 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, oregano, thyme, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Add the chicken strips and toss to coat. Marinate for at least 1 hour or at best, overnight.
Step 2 – Soak the Skewers and Make the Tomato-Herb-Cucumber Salad
Soak the skewers in water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the tomato-herb-cucumber salad.
Dice the tomatoes and cucumbers into small 1/4-inch cubes, and chop the scallions and mint.
In a small bowl, stir together the remaining parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil with the cucumber, tomato, scallions, and mint.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Evenly thread the chicken onto the skewers lengthwise, so the meat isn’t hanging off.
Step 3 – Grill the Chicken and Toast the Pitas
Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high.
Grill the chicken until lightly charred, about 6-8 minutes per side.
When the chicken has cooled slightly, slide it off the skewers.
Lightly toast the pitas, about 1 minute per side to heat them through and provide a bit of charred flavor.
Step 4 – Assemble
Spread each pita with a generous layer of tzatziki and then top with even portions of chicken, feta, cucumber-tomato salad, and pickled beets and turnips, or with whatever proportions suit your tastes. Serve immediately.
I Can Be Your Gyro, Baby
No, really. This voluptuous chicken handheld could be all yours.
Not a fan of feta’s salty tang? No worries, just skip it. Need to spice things up? Try hot pickled peppers instead. Tailoring this sandwich to your heart’s desire is half of the fun.
Speaking of fun, try deconstructing this dish for your next outdoor get-together so that everyone can build their own gyro from the ground up. Throw in a few whole wheat flatbreads, a bowlful of hummus or tahini, and a crisp rosé and you’ve got yourself a pita party.
Can I come?
Itching for more accompaniments you can add to your Mediterranean throw-down? These dynamic sides will bring life to your savory spread:
What do you scoop into your perfect pita? Crunchy veggies? Caramelized onions? Silky hummus? Share your fantastic fillers in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on May 2, 2011. Last updated: October 28, 2019 at 18:51 pm.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”