As a teenager, I dreamed of the day I would finally visit Europe: I’d spin through the cobblestone streets eating gelato and taking pictures with mustachioed strangers who’d then inform me that I most certainly did not look like an American tourist. “Principesa, why you no stay-a for coffee?” one might ask in his best “it’s-a me-a, Mario!” accent as I boarded a train toward another fabulous adventure. It did not bode well for me that all I knew about European culture I’d gleaned from nintendo and AbFab reruns on Comedy Central, but I had a dream, and we all know how that old chestnut usually plays out.
Well, teenage Beckie, you did it. I was fortunate enough to travel around different parts of Europe in 2009, and I consider it a formative experience of my nascent adulthood—London, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Salzburg, Athens, Santorini, etc. I almost feel a little glib etcetera-ing different places in Europe that I’ve traveled, but the list is that long, y’all. I also don’t know what it says about me as a person, but I identify each of these cities based upon the things I ate there. In London, I had true Shepherd’s pie for the first time, not the budget-friendly (and extremely sentimental) version my parents have been making since the 80s. In Amsterdam, I learned the true secret of eating french fries, and I’m here to tell you it’s mayonnaise. In Salzburg, I found the pretzel that puts all mall-based pretzel chains to shame (though I will still eat them with enough cream cheese). And in Santorini, I discovered the cuisine that makes my palate giddy.
My friends and I had already been traveling around Greece a week before we took the ferry to Santorini, an island in the Cyclades chain. We’d booked a rental there for seven nights, which seemed beyond luxurious for a group of twenty-somethings who were accustomed to spending spring break in the less charming parts of Florida. Seven nights meant enough time to eat all the food, see all the beaches, drink all the wine, and—it bears repeating—eat all the food. Up a small hill from our rented villa sat an unassuming restaurant that our host recommended to us. We assumed he suggested it based upon proximity; however, after we ate there the first night, we knew he’d given us a stolen page straight out of the Best Food Ever bible (of course this is an imaginary bible, but on the off chance it does exist and you have a copy, get at me in the comments for some Nicky Cage style hijinks).
There, at Metaxi Mas, we ate meals that left indelible impressions on our mouths and minds. I mean, the name of the restaurant literally means “the most delicious secret,” and we still reminisce about the joy of the two meals we ate there to this day. Run don’t walk if you ever find yourself in Exo Gonia (And, yes, I realize how pretentious this might sound, and I’m fighting that with every fiber of my little food-blogger being, but I think a little pretension never hurt anyone. We could all stand to tuck our shirts in now and then, right?).
We were also fortunate enough to dine at our rental owner’s home. He hosted us for a greek barbecue on his roof, and there I discovered a dish that I would become fixated upon replicating and that you’ll find below. He served grilled sausage dipped in stone-ground mustard, greek potatoes, and—my favorite—chicken souvlaki. Souvlaki generally means grilled meat in Greece, so it’s often either chicken, pork, or lamb. It’s served on a kabob, but not with vegetables as is traditional for other kabobs. After it’s grilled, the meat is removed to a warm pita topped with tzatziki, red onion, tomato, feta cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. This combination of flavors, when executed correctly, are some of the best I have ever put in my mouth (and I’ve dipped fries in mayonnaise). Six years later, and I can still vividly recall the memory of this meal. I returned home and began attempting to make souvlaki for my friends and family. It’s now one of my staples for entertaining large groups since I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love it. And on the days when my toes ache to wiggle in the waters of the Mediterranean, I whip up a batch of souvlaki and I’m instantly transported to that little rooftop in Volthanos, in the middle of Santorini, someplace I’d never been or thought I’d ever be, surrounded by those I love, with a plate of grilled chicken steaming in front of me.
- 1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breast, cut into 1” cubes
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped oregano
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped dill
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 8 Greek Flatbread/Pita (I do not like the pita pockets, so try to find authentic Greek pita, also known as flatbread)
- Olive Oil
- 1 tomato, chopped
- ½ red onion, chopped
- ½ cup crumbled feta
- Salt and pepper
- Whisk together all marinade ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Add chicken breast pieces, and cover them completely with marinade.
- Cover the chicken and marinate at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on skewers, approximately 5-6 pieces per, depending on how much chicken you like in a pita. *Note: if using wooden skewers (as pictured), soak them in water for an hour so they don’t burn easily on the grill.
- Grill skewers until chicken juices run clear and grill marks are present, about 12-15 minutes.
- Either at the grill, or on the stovetop, brush the flatbread with olive oil, and heat each side until lightly crispy around the edges.
- Fold flatbread around the chicken and remove by withdrawing the skewer while holding the flatbread firmly.
- Top with tzatziki, onion, tomatoes, and feta, and season to taste with salt and pepper.