The Lion Or The Lamb

...I'll take the lamb. I don't think it's legal to eat lion.

"Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?"

--from The Lamb by William

March is here. I really don't know if it came in like a lion or a lamb because our weather has been less than predictable (sunny/tornados/sunny/hail/sunny/light frost) but for sure, Spring is on its way. I can feel it. I can see it. The only way to celebrate is to get some lamb and do it up right. The availability of lamb this time of year heralds 3 things:

  1. the rising of Jesus Christ
  2. the rising of perennials
  3. the rising of hot cross buns on the kitchen counter or in the oven

Croci (or crocuses) I found in my yard.

Hot cross buns and Jesus will have to wait another 3 weeks. I decided to get ground lamb from my favorite local butcher (Thanks, Marcus!) and make gyros.

YEER-oh. Not GY-roh. You get in trouble if you pronounce it the wrong way.

Sadly, I've never been to Greece. I've only gone by it in a boat on the way to Italy. We waved at the hills and crests of the coastline as we tipped back ouzo in celebration of the times we would have had on the island.

I've never made a gyro. I've only watched the guys at my favorite Greek restaurant slice it off the spit, slap it on a pita and hand it to me in a grease-coated wax paper cone. I've made souvlaki, baklava (with no pistachios or walnuts; roasted soy nuts are pretty good!), dolmades, moussaka, and gigantes beans...but no gyros.

Today that all changed.

The meat in a gyro is typically lamb, chicken or pork. A pita is warmed and tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, and lettuce accompany the latter. I really don't know the history or significance of the food, but I do know that it's like...Greek fast food. I had one in the south of Spain once that had harissa and a crazy cucumber relish on it.

The real crowning glory of a gyro is the tzatziki sauce. If you've got good sauce, then you've got good eats. It's a yogurt-cucumber sauce that is sometimes called a tarator sauce (tarator is more watery and is a soup, really).

Lamb Gyro Serves 2 or 3 (or one very hungry person)

1 medium onion, cut into pieces
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 lb ground lamb
2 tablespoon Italian seasoning*
1 tsp dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Pre-packaged pitas for serving
*I hate those blends in the grocery, but I have this leftover from when my grandma used to cook in the kitchen.Alternatively you can use a mixture of thyme, oregano, and basil (fresh or dried).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Process the onion and garlic in a food processor until chopped finely. Turn out into the center of a clean kitchen towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice. Set aside 2 Tbsp of mixture for tzatziki sauce.
Return the mixture to the food processor and add the lamb, italian seasoning, rosemary, salt and pepper and process until it is a fine paste.

Whenever you are making a forcemeat like this, it behooves you to take a bit aside and cook it in a pan to taste test for seasonings. Do this now.

After proper seasoning, press mixture into the bottom of a loaf pan, pie plate, or oven-proof skillet. Cover with foil and place a heavy bottomed pot, brick, stone, or old dried-up beans (that you will never use) on the foil to weigh down the meat.

Ground lamb mixture pressed into the cast-iron skillet

Essentially, you will be pressing out most of the moisture from the lamb.

Place in oven for 20 minutes for medium/well-done.

If you like your meat varying degrees of doneness, cook it for less than 20 minutes. Twenty minutes is only a guideline, of course.

I sliced up my circle of lamb into strips to resemble to street gyros.

Tzatziki sauce

8 ounces Fage Total 0% Greek yogurt

1 medium English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Reserved onion/garlic mixture

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tsp red wine vinegar

5 to 6 mint leaves, minced (or chiffonade for presentation purposes)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid.

Pulverized cucumber displayed on a tea towel (before the big squeeze)

In a bowl, combine the yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, vinegar, and mint. Let chill until lamb is done. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

    Me inspecting the tzatziki. I approve!

    Mmmm...tzatziki sauce.

    Cut pieces of lamb for the gyro

    A nice chiffonade of romaine lettuce. Very mediterranean.

    Bad news: I was so hungry I didn't take a pic of my gyro before shoveling it in my mouth.

    Good news: It was great! Next time I think I'll grind my own lamb to make the texture smoother. I hope I don't grind it so much that it becomes a mushy mess.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

Leave a reply

  1. What an interesting and fun-looking process! I wonder how ground turkey would work. What do you think (even though I haven't eaten red meat in many years, I could never eat lamb-- baaaaaaaa!).

    Thanks for taking the time the to do the write-up and photos-- great job! And I can totally understand why the gyro wasn't around long enough for you to snap a pic of it. ;)


  2. Thought trial and error (more trial than anything) I think it turned out alright. I think turkey is a great idea. Just make sure you add ample fat (an infused olive oil would be à propos) and it would be ok. Maybe even a little reduced stock to boost the flavor and moisture content because dry turkey is the worst.

  3. I found the best gyro cart last week. This guy rolls them so perfectly that you really can walk while you eat it and don't end up with tzatziki dripping down your elbow.

    I need to get on board and make my own. I still have so much lamb in the freezer!

    Yours looks just fantastic, Nikki. Here's to spring!

  4. Oh wow, you are a genius....I never thought to cook a bit of the seasoned meat for taste-testing - I always just hoped for the best! Thanks for the tip!!!

  5. Heather: Oh, to roll a gyro so nicely. Where is this guy? I need to learn.

    Girl! You need to get on with the lamb! I love lamb. My husband loves lamb too. I have some left over from the other day. I plan on making some moussaka. My hubby has never had it.

    Alanna: You're so sweet. You're welcome for the tip. I really wish I were a genius. I'd be making a LOT more money than I do now.

  6. Hey Nikki,

    I just made these. As a matter of fact, the pix are on my server. I haven't blogged about them yet. I love the idea of homemade gyros. I get a hankerin' for them from time to time. The sauce is just the best.


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