Power tools and sporting equipment are great gifts for the dads in our lives. But, what they really want is a burger, a gyro burger. If you’ve ever eaten a gyro, I am certain you let out a low pitched “mmm” on your first bite. These gyro burgers are just as mouthwatering, but they don’t need hours rotating on a spit, and you won’t need King Arthur’s sword to carve them.
Mr. Gus Portokalis undoubtedly believes that the gyro originated in Greece, and I do realize that this is the second time I’ve referenced this beloved character and quintessential Greek dad. However, the gyro is similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Middle Eastern shawarma. No one really knows which country “invented” the gyro, but the Greeks have certainly put their ethnic stamp on it. It’s a cone of pressed meats, traditionally beef and lamb, and a variety of seasonings like onion, garlic and rosemary.
Most people have childhood associations with songs, scents, and food. For me, the gyro was a special weekend treat picked up at our local fast food gyro joint. During the summer, you would find me eating a gyro at one of the many church Greek fests. This was a dish that no one made at home. No gyro joint, no Greek fest, no gyro. The soft, warm pita bread, tender and flavorful meat, creamy tzatziki sauce, fresh tomatoes and onions are the perfect components for a fest worthy gyro burger.
They come together quickly, but you do need to make the pita bread bun “sponge” the morning of. Yes, I have a recipe for homemade pita bread burger buns. Do not be afraid! They are very easy, and a rolling pin is not needed. The hands-on time is about 20 minutes but there is time required for the sponge – the first phase of the dough to rest, and the rising of the actual dough. Cooking the buns is easy and foolproof in a large skillet. The burgers are flavored just like a traditional gyro using beef and lamb, onion, garlic and rosemary. A quick and thick tzatziki is a must, along with onion, lettuce and tomato.
Before I get to the actual recipe, let’s talk about burgers in general for a moment. Making a tender and juicy burger is a combination of three things:
1. Using high quality meat, preferably grass fed, with a fat content of at least 20% (I once had a filet burger. Queue the sad music. It was dry and dense because filet is very lean. PSA: Do not grind a perfectly fine filet, grill it in its natural steak-state instead.) If you like to grind your own meat for burgers, or if you’ve made friends with your local butcher, select a chuck roast with nice marbling to be ground up. Chuck is cut from the shoulder, has a rich flavor and makes for a tender burger. Stay away from meat labeled “hamburger meat” because you have no idea what part or parts of the animal it’s from.
2. Don’t overcook or over handle them on the grill. Turn them once and use an instant read thermometer to see if they’re cooked to your liking. Most thermometers indicate the temperature ranges for different meats and levels of doneness.
3. Avoid mushing and mashing the meat into submission with your hands. You’re not making meatballs or meatloaf. When burgers are mashed and pressed tightly, even when using high quality meat and cooking them properly, they will be dense and dry. When making flavored burgers like these, blend the herbs and seasonings together before adding the meat. Use a fork to fold the meat into the seasonings and evenly distribute the flavors. Put your hands into the mixture only when you’re ready to form burgers.
Make these gyro burgers this Father’s Day and save the power tools for Christmas. Dad will thank you.
Pita Bread Buns
Makes 12 buns, enough for 6 burgers
1 ½ cups warm water
½ teaspoon dry active yeast
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Stir the yeast and water in the bowl of an electric mixer using the dough hook. Add the whole wheat flour ½ cup at a time. Once all 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour has been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to stir on medium speed for 2 minutes. This is the pita sponge and it needs to rest covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
2. After the sponge has rested, sprinkle the salt and drizzle the olive oil on top and begin stirring on low speed with the paddle attachment.
3. Add the all-purpose flour ½ cup at a time while mixing on low speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when needed and continue mixing for 2-3 minutes or until all the flour has been incorporated. The dough will be sticky.
4. Remove the sticky dough from the mixing bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead it for a few minutes or until no longer sticky.
5. Place the dough into a large bowl drizzled with olive oil and turn it in the bowl to cover it with a light coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours. (Note: You can also allow the dough to rise in the refrigerator overnight. Bring dough to room temperature handling it and cooking pitas.)
6. Divide the dough in half, and in half again so you have 4 pieces of dough. Cut each quarter into 3 equal sized portions and form them into balls.
7. Press each ball into a flattened bun shape on a lightly floured surface.
8. Heat a large skillet on medium and add olive oil to the pan. Cook pitas for 1-2 minutes, or until lightly browned, turn over and cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the other side. Remove from the pan to a plate or sheet pan and continue to cook the remaining pita buns. Keep them at room temperature until ready to assemble the gyro burgers. Pitas are best the same day.
1 – Sponge 2 – Sponge after three hours
3 – Dough 4 – Dough after two hour rise
Makes 1 ¼ cups
You will notice that this tzatziki sauce is missing one distinctive ingredient, garlic. Leaving out the garlic allows for the gyro burger flavors to dominate the palette rather than raw garlic in the tzatziki. The bold flavors in this burger pair perfectly with this not garlicy, fresh, thick and lemony tzatziki.
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup cucumber, seeds removed, finely grated and squeezed in a kitchen towel to remove the water (measure after removing water)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Place yogurt in a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours to drain out the excess water. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to assemble burgers.
The combination of beef and lamb, along with the seasonings give these burgers a distinctive gyro flavor. I use grated shallot instead of onion because shallots have a mild and sweet onion flavor that doesn’t overpower the other flavors.
2 tablespoons grated shallot
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 lb ground beef
½ lb ground lamb
Additional olive oil for coating formed patties
Combine all seasonings and olive oil together in a large bowl and stir. Add beef and lamb and use a fork to break up the meat and fold the seasonings throughout the meat. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and gently form patties. Place them on a foil lined sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and coat both sides of the burger. Refrigerate until ready to grill. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before grilling and cook to your desired doneness on a hot, preheated grill.
To build your gyro burgers, start with a pita bun bottom, top with lettuce, followed by the burger, tzatziki, sliced tomatoes and grilled onions. Mmm