Simple and Versatile Greek Style Chicken and Tzatziki on Pita
One of my long time “go to” dishes is a Greek inspired grilled chicken served with tzatziki. Individually, the chicken or the tzatziki are each wonderful and versatile on their own. But together, they make an unbeatable combination. I have been serving this dish for close to twenty years in all sorts of situations.
Easy, versatile, and delicious are the winning traits that have me coming back to this over and over again. I have served it for family dinners, catered bridal showers, casual backyard barbecues, and dressed up dinner parties. Simple and quick, it can be prepared and made ahead, making it perfect for guests. It is quicker still if you use a store bought tzatziki, but it is much better with homemade, and making your own really isn’t that hard.
Let’s start with the chicken. My preferred cut here is a chicken breast, but this marinade works well with any cut of chicken. I start by putting the chicken in a zip plastic bag that is big enough to hold all the chicken with a bit of space remaining. I toss all the other ingredients in on top, close the zip plastic bag and then knead it all together until the chicken is fully covered with the marinade.
Put the zip plastic bag on a plate (in case it leaks) and place in your refrigerator for at least two hours, although longer won’t be a problem. It’s that easy. Zesting the lemon might be the most ‘complex’ part of the operation, but is still takes less than 5 minutes to pull it all together.
When it’s time to cook the chicken, you have options. I think that grilling does the best job of bringing out the flavor, and offers that dramatic ‘grill marks’ presentation. But you can’t go wrong cooking in a 350F oven for about 25 minutes . Either way, you want the chicken’s temperature to reach 165F for fully cooked.
Once cooked, the chicken can be served whole, or cut and used as salad topping, in a wrap, or tossed on a pizza. Here, I’ll be putting it on a pita with some chopped tomato and cucumber, and topped with the tzatziki. .
So what is tzatziki anyway?? It is a cucumber, mint, yogurt sauce common in Greek dishes.
Tzatziki is a great topping for many grilled meats and fish. In addition to with the chicken here, I almost always have tzatziki with lamb kabobs, beef or lamb koftas, falafel, and I’ve been known to serve it straight up as a dip with toasted pita chip.
The cucumber/mint/yogurt combination is so darn good, you can find it all around the Mediterranean and beyond. In Turkey, it is known as Cacik. Typically thinned with a little water or milk, cacik served a bit looser than tzatziki. In Lebanon, labneh with cucumber, mint and yogurt is served with stuffed grape leaves, among other dished. And even as far afield as Indian cuisine, you can find Raita, a similar yogurt/cucumber/mint topping.
Like the chicken above, making tzatziki is mostly tossing the ingredients in a bowl and stirring together well. And it can be made ahead, which allows the flavors to more fully combine. I like to allow at least two hours in the refrigerator, but it will keep for up to a week. If it begins to separate as it sits, simply stir it back together to combine before serving.
Admittedly, prepping the cucumber takes a bit of work, but it really isn’t difficult or time consuming. It takes longer to describe than to do! Here we go -- start with an English cucumber. Peel it. Cut it in half the long way to expose the seeds inside. Using a small measuring spoon, scoop the seeds out so you have two small cucumber “canoes”.
Now take a box shredder and shred both of the cucumber canoes. Stack a couple of paper towels up, and put the shredded cucumber in the middle. Wrap up the cucumber, and over the sink squeeze it out.
I use a technique that is kind of like making snowball, packing all the cucumber together so the liquid drains off. Probably the most critical step is to squeeze as much liquid as you can from the shredded cucumber to keep your tzatziki from being too watery. Toss squeezed cucumber on top of yogurt in a bowl. Add the mint, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Done. Not that hard!! Right?!?!
One other helpful technique is how to easily chop the mint leaves. This works well for any leafy herb you want to chop such a basil or sage. Stack several mint leaves on top of each other, then roll them up tightly to form a small cigar like shape. With a small tight package of leaves, it is now easy to cut thin slices. Once you have a pile of thin slices, you can take the knife and chop in the other direction to create chopped mint.
When I first started making tzatziki, Greek yogurt wasn’t available in stores. I used to buy regular yogurt and strain it overnight to convert it to the thicker Greek style yogurt. But with widely available Greek yogurts now, it is much simpler and quicker to make (If you REALLY want to Food-Geek out, you could make your own yogurt from scratch, but that is taking it to a whole ‘nother level! How to do that will be the topic of a future post!)
I have to say, I’ve been making this for so long, that I’m way past exact measurement for any of the ingredients. I find that a single chicken breast is typically enough to serve two people comfortably, so the recipe below is sized for serving 4. I’ve done my best to give you a good starting place in the recipe below, but feel free to play with any of the amounts to suit your own tastes. You really can’t be wrong and it’s a great opportunity to experiment.
2 Chicken Breasts (about 1 lb total)
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
2 6 oz containers Plain, low -fat (or fat free) Greek yogurt
1 English cucumber
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs chopped mint leaves
Kosher Salt, to taste
2 - 3 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 small tomato, roughly topped
1 -2 leafs, green leaf lettuce, roughly chopped
½ cup chopped cucumber
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
8 6” pitas,
Marinade the chicken
Place the chicken breasts in a large zip bag
Add lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano and garlic to the chicken
Seal the zip bag and knead the chicken to fully coat with the marinade ingredients
Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 8.
Prepare the tzatziki
Peel the cucumber and cut in half the long way
Using a small measuring spoon, scrape the seeds out of the cucumber
With a box grater, grate the cucumber
With the help of a couple of paper towels, squeeze the shredded cucumber to remove most of the liquid
Place Greek style yogurt in a small bowl and add the cucumber.
Add the garlic, mint and kosher salt and stir to combine
Add the lemon juice a teaspoon at a time, and stir together to combine. Add until you get a flavor you are happy with.
Add the olive oil and stir together to combine.
Cover and place in the refrigerator
Make the topping
Just before cooking the chicken, prepare the chopped vegetable topping
Add chopped tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce to a bowl
Season with the salt, pepper garlic and oregano
Add a lemon juice and olive oil and toss to thoroughly combine
Cook the chicken
If using a grill, heat the grill to a medium high heat
Add the chicken and let it cook for about 4 minutes before turning
Turn the chicken, and allow to cook for 4 - 6 more minutes, until it reaches 165F / 74C
Remove from heat, place on a plate, and cover with foil. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting
Cut the chicken into slices, approximately ¼ inch/¾ cms
Lay two pitas on plate
Add 6 - 8 slices of chicken to each pita
Add chopped vegetable topping
Add about 2 teaspoons of tzatziki and garnish with a mint leaf on each pita
Serve and enjoy!