One of my favorite recipes is Stovetop Pork Carnitas (updated and renamed in Well Fed as Citrus Carnitas). It requires very little effort, but makes a huge pile of meat that lasts for days and can be re-mixed with other ingredients to make lots of tasty stuff. The cooking technique creates lovely caramelized bits – and caramelized bits are one of the best things on the planet. And, it uses cumin. That cumin thing would be enough of a reason on its own.
So that got me thinking: what other meats could I cook this way?
Say hello to Deconstructed Gyros. (This is one of the recipes I created for my gig as the US Wellness Meats Featured Chef this month. I will never get over saying that.)
Like the carnitas, the cooking part of this recipe takes about 2-3 hours, but at the end of that waiting period, you will be rewarded with caramel-brown, lemony, crispy lamb that practically falls apart when you look at it. Isn’t that worth a few hours of bubbling atop the stove? And the seasonings! The cumin is rich and earthy, the mint adds just the right bite, and the lemon juice creates a deep, layered flavor while it slyly tenderizes the meat.
Gyros are usually served on pita bread with a sauce made from yogurt – both a no-no for us dino-chowers. This deconstructed salad delivers all the flavor of the original by keeping all of the good stuff – bright, fresh, crisp vegetables, plus a creamy, lightly-seasoned sauce – and dumping the dairy and gluten.
Deconstructed Gyro Salad
Prep 5 min | Cook 2-3 hours | Alert 15 min
3-4 pounds lamb shoulder roast (you can sub beef if you don’t like lamb)
2 tablespoons dried mint leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon coarse (granulated) garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup lemon juice
Diced tomatos. red onion, cucumber
Fresh parsley or mint (or both!), minced
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
1/4 cup homemade mayo
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon za’atar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
1/2 clove garlic, minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
With a sharp knife, cut the lamb shoulder into 3- to 4-inch chunks. You don’t want them bite-sized. Place the lamb pieces in a large ziplock bag.
In a small bowl, rub the mint and oregano leaves between your palms to crush them. Add the cumin, Aleppo pepper, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper; mix with a fork until blended. Add the spice blend to the bag, zip it closed, and shake assertively until all the lamb pieces are coated with the spices.
Place the lamb in a large, deep pot. Pour the lemon juice into the bottom of the pot, then add water to just cover the meat.
Place the pot on high heat and bring the water to a rip-roaring boil. When it’s rolling, reduce the heat to keep a steady, strong simmer with the pan uncovered. The liquid should bubble a fair amount, but should not be a vigorous boil. While it’s cooking, it will look like uninspired soup. Do not be discouraged! As the water evaporates, the acidic qualities of the lemon juice tenderize and flavor the meat.
At about the 2-hour mark, check the pot. The water should be much lower and maybe even almost gone. Allow all the water to cook out of the pan and watch as the meat magically fries and caramelizes in the fat and fruit juice.
Carefully turn the hunks of meat — without shredding them — to brown all sides, then remove the hunks to a plate and let them rest for 5 minutes before eating.
While the meat rests, make the dressing. In a small bowl, crush the dried mint with your fingers, then add mayo, parsley, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, and garlic. Blend well with a fork. Drizzle in the lemon juice, mixing with the fork, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the raw vegetables on the plate, add the lamb, drizzle with the dressing, and sprinkle with minced, fresh herbs.
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