One of the things I miss the most about Chicago is the Greek family diner. It’s essentially your typical coffee shop kind of restaurant (think Denny’s or Shari’s) but owned by a Greek family so there’s plenty of Greek foods on the menu. It’s not unusual to get a spanakopita (Americanized by calling just calling it spinach pie) and fries or a gyro platter (pronouncing it with a hard “j” sound like it is a spinning top, of course) at the same time someone else at your table is getting steak and eggs. It’s a phenomenon that I just haven’t seen replicated with such fervor anywhere else. Yes, including you Salt Lake with the run of Greek family owned fast food chains– just not the same as the sit down diner experience. Then again, I’m not sure why I’m describing this in such detail when anyone who hasn’t been to Chicago can get the basic idea by watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
What does this have to do with meatloaf you ask? Well if you’re ignorant like me who only learned this a couple of years ago while watching Alton Brown, gyros are essentially giant meat loaves: ground meat, spices, garlic, and onions are formed into a large loaf and roasted on a spit. The meat is thinly shaved off of the roast for your sandwich. I just thought it was thin slices of a lamb roast cooked on a griddle, perhaps because the gyros I grew up around were overcooked, practically crispy pieces of lamb meat. I don’t think I truly had a gyro until law school: there’s a fabulous Middle Eastern restaurant in the U District whose gyros I crave because the texture of the thin slices are so soft and tender, somehow holding together while driving it home that the slices are actually made up of tiny, juicy morsels of ground meat.
So one night, I tried to combine the best of two worlds, by making a gyro platter of my own, only hoping that my gyro would be more of the texture of the gyro I love from here in Seattle. What’s that pictured above you ask? Well, instead of making regular potato fries, I had a bunch of purple potatoes from the CSA that week so I tried making salt and vinegar potato chips out of them for my platter. These potato slices were thinly sliced (about 1/8 of an inch), tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper then roasted at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, flipping them over about halfway through cooking. They were finished with a liberal dousing of malt vinegar, more salt and red pepper flakes. (I say this here since these were not the star of this post.)
I thought that maybe I could recreate the gyro cooking process by forming a meatloaf out of ground lamb, cooking it in my oven then delicately shaving off slices, you know, since I don’t seem to have a giant rotisserie spit in my kitchen. Not a bad idea, but, well, let’s just say that I didn’t want an overly dry meat loaf, so when it looked like it was done cooking and had a nice caramelization on the outside, it was probably too moist. I just couldn’t shave off tender, thin slices– getting large crumbles instead. I got frustrated and ended up just cutting the loaf into slices, figuring I’d call this a Greek meatloaf sandwich and pretend I meant to do it that way. So uh, yeah– forget everything I just said.
No matter what you call it, this was so delicious. The meat was tender and juicy, a little spicy from a dash of cinnamon and cumin, which contrasted beautifully with the creamy, cucumber cool tzatziki. It may not have worked as envisioned, but it still presented prettily, don’t you think?
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp Montreal steak seasoning
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 cup baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup Greek style yogurt
- 1 tsp fresh mint, chiffonade
- 1 tsp parsley, chopped
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
- juice of half a lemon
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground lamb, onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and steak seasoning. Mix together using your hands until just combined. On a foil lined baking sheet, shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape, about 3 inches wide in diameter. Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers about 325 degrees F. Remove and let sit before you slice.
While the lamb loaf is cooking, combine the yogurt, parsley, mint, cucumber, lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, and the salt and pepper in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can also make a Greek salad by combining a couple of chopped and peeled cucumbers, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, a handful of Kalamata olives, and a sliced small red onion with a dressing made up of lemon juice, olive oil, and lots of fresh mint and parsley. Don’t forget to fold in some crumbled Feta.
To assemble the sandwiches, cut the meatloaf into 1 inch thick slices. Put a little bit of tzatziki sauce at the bottom of a pita then add a couple of slices of meatloaf (or more if you like a big, Dagwood style sandwich, I suppose.) Top with more tzatziki and some spinach leaves. Serve with lots of napkins!
CSA Count: 3 (boost it up to 5 when you include the sides)
Cucumber, onion, garlic (purple potatoes, sungold cherry tomatoes)