A Mediterranean Grill: My Favorite Way to Eat
September 28, 2017
This is my dinner sweet spot: a simply-grilled and flavor-packed protein enhanced by a sauce or two and as many fresh vegetables as possible. There are many reasons to love this dish. First, it is so simple to prepare, it almost doesn’t feel like cooking. Being pretty to look at and fun to eat doesn’t hurt either. But my favorite part about this dinner: everyone can eat it just the way that they want to. In today’s “on the side” world, that is a complete slam-dunk.
Here I have adapted Sam Sifton’s delicious Chicken Shwarma recipe for fast weeknight cooking. By using the thinnest slices of chicken breast, the chicken can marinate in as little as 15 minutes and cook up in another 10. The boneless chicken breasts make for easy slicing as well.
The sliced chicken can be wrapped in a grilled pita that has been stuffed with arugula, fresh tomato, cucumber and drizzled with this yogurt sauce. Or eat it the way that I do, without the wrapper, arranged in a colorful display on your plate.
To feed more people or make the meal more elaborate, add in some simply-grilled or roasted vegetables to eat on the side. (Eggplant, zucchini, red onions, and peppers are some of my favorites. Roasted cauliflower makes a delicious accompaniment as well.) Sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil also work, as does baby arugula tossed with olive oil, freshly-squeezed lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper. Grilled shrimp or lamb and perhaps another condiment like hummus, babganoush or harissa make it company-worthy. Finally, olives, feta, roasted peppers, and other mezze add even more fun.
Secrets for Success:
Simply-prepared foods such as these call out for liberal seasoning. Be generous with the salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Taste, taste, and taste again.
Always use freshly-squeezed lemon juice in your cooking.
Make sure your fresh herbs are dry before chopping, otherwise you will have a soggy mess.
A super-clean and pre-heated grill prevent sticking.
Thin-sliced chicken really cooks quickly but also is prone to drying out. Be careful not to overcook the chicken!
Try not to cut the chicken open to check for doneness; you will loose all of the juice. Instead, the chicken should spring back lightly when pressed with your finger tips.
Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Avoid biting into pieces of garlic in uncooked dishes: mince and mash the garlic to a paste with salt before adding to your recipe.
Adapted from Sam Sifton for The New York Times
2 lemons, juiced
½ cup olive oil plus additional for brushing the pitas and the grill
6 cloves garlic, peeled, and pressed with a garlic press
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
A generous pinch ground cinnamon
1 ½ to 2 pounds thin-sliced, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4-6 whole pitas, optional
Prepare the marinade for the chicken: Combine the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and cinnamon in a zip-loc bag set inside a large bowl, then shake to combine. Add the chicken and toss well to coat. Close the bag and marinate at room temperature for 15-30 minutes or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator..
Cook the chicken and the pitas: Heat an outdoor grill to high heat until hot. Pat the chicken dry, lightly oil the grill, and cook the chicken for about 2-4 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate to rest for 5 minutes. Lightly-brush the pitas on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill for 1-2 minutes/side until crisp and lightly-charred. Slice the chicken, if desired, and serve with desired accompaniements.
Keeps for 3-4 days, refrigerated.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably 2%
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Stir together all ingredients. Refrigerate until serving.
Makes 2 cups.