lamb gyro salad with tzatziki

8:48:00 PM

Here’s something dorky: we made a summer bucket list this year. (Well, I did, Bob contributed.) We always talk about doing specific things, but we forget about them, and I found the best way to actually get us out DOING stuff was to write it down and actually schedule specific outings. We actually completed quite a huge chunk of our list, and I feel like this summer was very productive.

One of my favorite bucket list items was “campus day.” I’ve spent my whole life in Madison, minus the four years I spent living in Minneapolis for college. (Loved it, but plans to live there forever changed.)  Bob didn’t live in Madison until he was in college. So, although I’ve spent nearly my whole life here, I’ve never actually taken a real “tour” of UW Madison, and Bob knows campus much better than I do.

We walked about seven miles that day, all around campus and fun gardens and on State Street. We were eventually ravenous and ended up at Parthenon Gyros. This place is bomb. I’ve been there a handful of times since high school, but this particular day  - oh man. We were so hungry. And we could’ve eaten anything, but this was what I needed.  This gyro place looks like nothing special inside, but it has awesome food and this was absolutely the most satisfying meal we could’ve had. I still talk about this particular meal, because there are few times when what you really, really, really want to eat is that incredibly satisfying.

My sister sent me this gyro recipe ages ago, and I’ve made it a handful of times. Though not super fast, the lamb is easy, tastes amazing and can be turned into a typical gyro (wrapped in a warm pita with tomato and onion and tzatziki) or, as we did here, a nice salad. (Obviously we couldn’t go TOO low carb - I served this with warm pita bread wedges.)

The process for ending up with delicious slices of smoky lamb that are crispy on the edges is, admittedly, a little gross. You puree raw, ground lamb with some raw bacon, spices, garlic and onion into a sort of thick paste, then shape it into a loaf and bake it. (Pro tip: Don't get chunks of lamb instead of ground lamb and try to blend it in a standard blender. It eventually worked, but oh my god, it was a disaster.) Once fully cooked, you thinly slice it, then broil these slices just until browned and crispy and delicious. Then they’re ready to be stuffed in a soft pita or made into a tasty salad. If you don’t eat pork, or want to save some calories, or don’t want to buy bacon for this, you can leave the bacon out. I highly recommend not doing so, but it's definitely possible. 

For best results, make the tzatziki and the lamb mixture the day before. Both are much better sitting and letting flavors meld. But, I've also made this quickly, and it's always good.

These won’t beat the amazing gyros at Parthenon, but they’re as close as I’ll probably ever come at home!

lamb gyro salad with tzatziki sauce
meat recipe from Brown Eyed Baker

for the meat
1 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons kosher salt (if using regular salt, reduce to 1 tsp)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves (or about 1 tbsp dried)
½ yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks (use remaining onion to top salad)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
3 ounces slab bacon or 5 slices sliced bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces (optional but highly recommended)

for the tzatziki dressing
¾ large cucumber (save remaining ¼ for topping salad)
1 cup plain greek yogurt (any fat percentage is fine)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice (save lemon slices for garnish and squeezing over salad)
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (dried doesn’t work well here - use more if you love dill)

for the salad
mixed greens
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (or 2 large tomatoes, diced)
¼ large cucumber
one large carrot, peeled and sliced into coins
½ onion, thinly sliced
bread or pita wedges for serving, if desired (alternatively, wrap gyro meat and toppings in a warmed pita bread)

Make the tzatziki first to let the flavors meld (it’s actually best made a day prior, but it’s fine made same day.) Peel the cucumber, slice it in half lengthwise, and using a melon baller or teaspoon, scrape out the seeds. Mince 3/4th the cucumber; slice the rest of it for topping the salad. Combine the minced cucumber, greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and dill, then place in refrigerator in a covered container until ready to serve.

Make the meat: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a food processor, combine the ground lamb, salt, pepper, oregano, onion, garlic, and bacon, and process until smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. For best flavor, let sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray (or lightly oil.) Wet your hands, then shape the meat into a loaf that’s about 8 inches long and 5 inches wide (I actually use a ruler for this and make it as even as possible so it cooks evenly.) Place on baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes or until meat reaches 155 degrees inside. Tent loaf with foil, then let sit for 15 minutes.

Once ready, slice the lamb loaf thinly, between 1/8th inch and 1/4th inch thick. Place oven rack on the highest position in the oven below the broiler. Replace the foil on the baking sheet with a new piece of foil (assuming lots of juices have accumulated.) Lay slices in a single layer on the same baking sheet, then broil for about 2-4 minutes or until the edges are crispy. (Watch this super carefully (I’ve started a couple kitchen fires in my day, and the broiler is to blame…) Then, flip slices over and broil for 2-4 minutes on the other side. Don’t get them too brown or the meat will dry out too much.

To make salads, place gyro meat on a bed of mixed greens, and top with tomatoes, carrot, cucumbers, sliced onions and tzatziki sauce. Serve with bread or pita wedges if desired. 

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