Greek Chicken Skewers with Yogurt Sauce (Chicken Souvlaki)
Enjoy a virtual visit to the Mediterranean with these Greek-inspired open faced “sandwiches” with grilled chicken. They’re perfect for a summer supper!
Souvlaki — small pieces of meat or vegetables grilled on skewers — are popular all over Greece and often served with warm flatbread. Top this with a tangy yogurt sauce and a riot of fresh vegetables and you’ve got a knockout dinner.
This is fast food at its finest: simple, delicious and healthy! Eat them by folding the flatbread in half around the chicken and chowing down.
I’ve added Maras, or Marash, pepper to the chicken marinade to introduce you to a new flavor. This is a deep red pepper from Turkey with a medium, balanced heat that lingers. It’s a favorite of mine.
I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood with several Middle Eastern markets, where spices like Maras pepper are easy to find. You can also sometimes find it at specialty markets or at online sellers.
If you happen to come across Maras pepper, give it a try! But if you can’t find it, just subsitute paprika with a few good pinches of cayenne pepper to give the marinade a hint of heat.
I’ve given instructions for both inside cooking and outdoor grilling. The day I made these was cold and rainy, so I made everything on the stovetop in a grill pan I keep for occasions like this. Turn the heat up high and you’ll still get great grill marks!
Grilled or griddled, this meal always brings back memories of blue skies, the sea, and carefree Greek vacations. This is going to be on the menu all summer long.
Greek Chicken Skewers with Yogurt Sauce (Chicken Souvlaki) Recipe
Look for Maras, or Marash, pepper at Middle Eastern groceries and specialty markets. If you can’t find it, substitute paprika with a few good pinches of cayenne pepper for some heat.
Tahini is a condiment made from ground sesame seeds and can be found in most grocery stores near the nut butters, or with other Middle Eastern ingredients.
Leftover yogurt sauce can be used as a dip for raw vegetables, thinned with oil to make a salad dressing, or as a spread for burgers and sandwiches.
For the chicken:
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon Maras pepper (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 pound boneless, skinless breasts, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
For the yogurt sauce:
- 1 cup plain yogurt, any variety
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 3 to 4 teaspoons lemon juice (from half a lemon)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 (6-inch) pita breads (leave whole; do not split)
- 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup packed arugula
- Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of mint
- Bamboo or metal skewers (if cooking on a grill)
- Cast-iron grill pan (if cooking indoors)
1 Make the chicken marinade: In a medium bowl whisk, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, Maras pepper (or cayenne and paprika), salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil.
2 Marinate the chicken: Scoop out and set aside 1/4 cup of the marinade to use when serving. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl with the remaining marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or for up to 2 hours. (Longer is better if you have time!)
3 Make the yogurt sauce: In a small bowl, whisk the tahini and yogurt together until smooth. Stir in 3 teaspoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper as needed.
4 If cooking on an outdoor grill, soak 6 bamboo skewers in warm water (or use metal skewers).
5 Cook the chicken:
To cook the chicken on a grill: Light a charcoal grill or turn a gas grill to medium-high. Oil the grates before grilling. Thread the chicken pieces on metal or soaked bamboo skewers while the grill is heating.
Grill, turning occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until seared on the outside and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165F. Transfer the cooked chicken to a platter and set aside.
To cook the chicken on the stovetop: Set a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat and heat until hot. A flick of water should sizzle instantly on contact. Turn on a vent fan or open a window; the chicken will be smoky.
Add a teaspoon of oil to the grill pan and swirl to coat. Working in batches if necessary, lay the chicken pieces on the hot grill pan and cook, turning often with tongs, for 4 to 6 minutes, or until seared on the outside and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165F. Transfer the cooked chicken to a platter and set aside.
6 Warm the pita bread: On the hot grill pan or on the outdoor grill, warm the pita bread for a minute or two, turning once, until slightly puffed and warm to the touch.
7 Assemble the souvlaki sandwiches: Spread each pita with 2 tablespoons or more of the yogurt sauce, to taste. Top each with a quarter of the chicken pieces, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, arugula, and mint. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls the reserved marinade and serve.