|Greek Yogurt Marinated Chicken Souvlakia with Fennel, Onion and Tzatziki|
Lately I have been caught daydreaming of sun drenched beaches and tansversing ancient pathways in Greece, so, it was inevitable that I would turn to tender chicken souvlaki and a classic tzatziki sauce as my first foray into grilling season. It reminds me of L'il Burnt Toast and I relaxing at a taverna on the island of Naxos with the green hills and valleys mirrored in the distance where clusters of Byzantine churches, medieval towers, and villages with handsome neoclassical houses were laid out before us. If I close my eyes tight I can still catch the heady fragrance of bouganvilleas, lemon and citron in the gentle wind.
We fell completely head over heels in love with Naxos. Its sandy beaches go on for miles, fresh seafood, homemade wine, sipping warm rakomelo at a little bar with a view of the harbour, and most of all the people... the warmest, friendliest, most genuine and accommodating people we have ever met. The capital of Naxos has grown up in and around its own massive Venetian castle. The Venetians ruled Naxos from 1207 until the island fell to the Turkish in 1566. The influence of Venetian architecture is obvious in the Hora's kastro, some handsome mansions in town, and many of the piryi (fortified towers) that punctuate the hillsides. The presence on the island of descendants of the Venetians means that Naxos has both Catholic and Orthodox churches; sometimes side by side and even sharing a central wall, as at the Bellonia Tower.
We had rented a semi-automatic car, something that is rare on an island in the Agean Sea, and spent the day exploring tiny Greek churches over 1500 years old, giant marble slabs partially carved into long forgotten kouros, and little hidden pottery shops off the side of the road. We tasted the traditional liqueur of Naxos, Citron, after watching it being distilled in the same way it has been done for hundreds of years.We drove through tiny picturesque villages which look like they are suspended in mid air, placed by the hand of Zeuss between steep horizontal valleys. The roads are carved out of the mountainside and the hairpin turns forced us to drive cautiously while navigating the picturesque terrain and deftly avoiding more aggressive locals, flocks of geese and herds of island goats.
We drove home by way of Apollonas, a small sea side town on the north side of Naxos where we had a late lunch side by side with local fishermen and their families and returned by the road that runs parallel with the rugged coast. The beauty of the scenery was unparalled and only surpassed by the sun setting over the Agean sea creating a sparkling oasis that we will remember for a very long time.
When I think of Greek food I always think of street food such as chicken souvlaki served outdoors at every local hangout. In this version marinating the souvlaki in yogurt is an idea I gleaned from my friend Peter at Kalofagas. As with tandoori chicken the cutlets marinate in lots of yogurt, olive oil, and salt. That way they stay juicy, briny, and flavourful. I had forgotten exactly how tender they could be. This method is fool proof and stands up well to grilling. No more dry, overcooked chicken for this lass! The cutlets are marinated for at least 3 hours and can remain in the fridge for up to 3 days. It is personal preference but I enjoy grilling my vegetables separately since they cook at a slower pace than the chicken considering their size.
I dedicate this souvlaki dish and tasty fennel and red onion kebabs to the many bar and restaurant owners who offered us a drink, a dessert, a gardenia flower, or an extra taste to make our stay was that more special. Also to everyone we met on the streets who greeted us with a smile and a yassas. The island captivated our hearts and I long to return to this wonderful island where we became part of the family.
**Greek Yogurt Marinated Chicken Souvlaki with Fennel and Onion **
1/3 cup strained Greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dry Greek oregano
2 medium fennel bulbs
2 medium sized red onions, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
wooden skewers, soaked in water overnight
Prepare the souvlaki by first rinsing and patting dry the chicken. Cut each chicken breast lengthwise into long, thin strips. Set aside and wash your hands.
Cut each fennel bulb and onion into quarters.
In a medium bowl mix Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, grated onion, minced garlic, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken strips, fennel and red onion pieces and with hands make sure all pieces are well coated. Place in the fridge and marinate for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. Return to room temperature before grilling.
Remove ingredients from bowl and discard marinade. As if your were stitching with the skewer, secure the strips of meat in an over and under fashion. Repeat until all your strips are on skewers. I like to cook my vegetables and meat separately since they will cook to perfection in different time frames. Therefore the fennel and onion are threaded alternately onto separate skewers.
Preheat your gas grill or stovetop grill pan. Lubricate the grill surface with vegetable oil and over medium-high heat place the vegetable skewers onto the grill. These will take about 10 minutes to grill for large pieces chunks. Turn half way through. Place the chicken on the grill. Watch for flareups. The chicken will take approximately 4-5 minutes per side.
Serve with some warm pita bread, sprinkle with sea salt and dry Greek oregano Serve with a dollop of Tzatziki.
1 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped fresh dill, parsley and mint, mixed
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
a splash of ouzo
salt to taste
(If you cannot find thick Greek yogurt strain your yogurt in a cheesecloth bag or fine mesh sieve overnight in the refrigerator. Make sure to have a bowl underneath to catch the excess liquid. This will create a thick yogurt perfect for this sauce).
With a box grater grate the cucumber directly into a mesh strainer or, a couple layers of cheese cloth. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Set the strainer over a bowl to catch the liquid or hang your cheesecloth bag over the drain of the sink. Allow it to drain for a half hour. With your hands squeeze the remaining moisture out of the cucumber. Discard the liquid.
In a large bowl, mix together the strained or Greek yogurt, garlic, dill, cucumber, lemon juice, lemon zest and a generous pinch of sea salt. Taste the Tzatziki and season with additional salt if needed.