I lived in Astoria (a popular residential neighborhood in Queens) for four years and that’s where I learned to love Greek food.
Astoria is packed with Greek diners, cafés, and upscale restaurants, but I really fell in love with Greek food at a hole in the wall place called Zorba’s. In good weather David and I ate there weekly at least. We sat outside in rickety metal chairs that scraped the uneven pavement, our massive overflowing plates crowding the plastic tabletop. We sat in the lingering heat of the evening with supremely generous glasses of wine and ate.
I am a person who finds something I absolutely love on a menu, and then insist on ordering it every single time. I always got the same thing at Zorba’s: a chicken souvlaki platter with pita and extra tzatziki sauce. They served their pita sliced in triangles. I’d stuff each precious slice with the spiced, marinated grilled chicken, some feta, a tomato or cucumber or two, a few french fries, and then slathered the entire thing in tzatiki. A perfect, perfect bite.
Zorba’s is definitely one of the restaurants I miss most in New York, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to recreate those simple, heavenly flavors. Luckily, I’ve come pretty damn close.
My own recipe, after much trial and error
Yield: Quite a lot
- 2 Cups of plain Greek Yogurt (I use an entire tub of Fage Total, which–at 17.6 ounces–is just over 2 cups)
- 1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
- 1 Tablespoon of lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
- 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- Fresh dill (I can’t give you a measurement on this. I use a LOT. Like… 1/4 cup. A few Tablespoons will probably suit you just fine).
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- Place cucumbers in a strainer and add salt, tossing to coat. Set aside and let the cucumbers drain for at least one hour and up to three hours. You want to pull as much moisture out of the cucumbers as possible so that the tzatziki stays nice and thick instead of getting runny.
- Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients and let the mix chill in the fridge. One the cucumbers have drained, blot them with a paper towel and gently fold into the yogurt mixture. You may eat immediately, but flavors will meld beautifully overnight. Best served chilled. Will keep tightly sealed in the fridge for one week.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yield: 8 pitas
- 3 cups flour (bread and all-purpose work equally well. Up to half–no more–can be whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons oil
- Combine all ingredients until a shaggy dough is formed.
- Knead by hand (10 minutes) or by mixer (5 minutes) until dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be overly wet or sticky, nor should it be incredibly dry. If you need to add more water, do it one Tablespoon at a time.
- Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover (shower cap!), and let rise for one hour. It should be close to doubled in size.
- Divide dough into 8 pieces (you can weigh them out if you want to be super accurate) roll into balls and cover with a clean, very damp towel. Let sit for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a baking stone, this is an excellent time to use it. If not, find a large, flat cookie sheet and stick it in the oven.
- Roll out one dough ball into a roughly six inch circle. You want the dough to be thin, but not TOO thin. If you can see through it, start over–you’ve rolled it out too much.
- Place the circle on a piece of parchment paper (not wax paper, not aluminum foil) and put the whole thing in the oven directly on your stone/baking sheet. Bake for anywhere from three to five minutes (check it at three, if it hasn’t puffed, let it go two minutes more. If it STILL hasn’t puffed, take it out and enjoy your delicious flatbread. We’ll fix the problem in a minute).
- If you first pita doesn’t puff, your dough is either rolled out too thin, or else it’s not moist enough. In which case, roll out the next piece, and then spritz it with some water. A spray bottle is perfect for this, but if you don’t have one handy just shake a few drops of water onto the dough with your fingers. Don’t over do it and soak the poor dough, you just want to get a little extra moisture on there. Pop it on the parchment paper, and into the oven it goes.
- Repeat for all 8 pieces. If the pita isn’t going directly into your mouth as it comes out of the oven (and I wouldn’t blame you if it did) wrap it in a clean towel to keep it soft. Once pita has completely cooled it will keep in an air-tight container at room temperature for a week.
While you could certainly just combine the pita and tzatziki and call it a day, we also love to make gyros and other sandwiches, Greek-style nachos, and use tzatziki as a dipping sauce for fries or crudités (or just a spoon, because really? It’s that good). YUM.