When I was a kid, it was called schwarma because it came mostly from Middle Eastern restaurants. And then when I spent a college semester in Australia it was called doner kebab, the Turkish name. And now in San Francisco they’re mostly called gyros, even if the place where you get it isn’t Greek. For a while I ate one just about every week after playing Ultimate Frisbee in the park. It’s a good sandwich – saucy and packed with crisp vegetables. Sometimes there are fries or feta or other additions but the real stunner is the meat. The vertical spit is sort of weird and sort of wonderful, and it’s generally looks the same no matter what you call the resulting sandwich.
The rotisserie slowly spins and the strips of beef or lamb or chicken caramelize on the outside until they’re sliced off for folding into a wrap. And on top of that there’s usually an onion or two, its juice slowly dripping onto the meat cooking below. At my favorite place, there’s a small pile of tomatoes roasting under the meat as well, soaking up everything above them. A few of those get stuffed into each wrap and those juicy bites are the best part. I always loved watching the rotisserie as it makes a slow revolution, each side getting a chance to sizzle by the heat, and then turn away to avoid burning. I still like watching it while I wait for my sandwich.
The rotisserie put gyros in the category of things I assumed couldn’t be made at home. I’m not buying a rotisserie, and while it might be fun as a weekend project with friends, I figured I was better off getting takeout than trying to MacGuyver gyros on a weeknight. I probably would have stuck to that idea if it wasn’t for those tomatoes. Soft roasted tomatoes mingled with roasted meat seemed too delicious not to make at home. And from there I thought about what spices would go into something that tastes like a gyro. And from that perspective, homemade gyros didn’t seem so impossible.
It may not be the authentic rotisserie, but then again, meals don’t have to be authentic to make a damn good homemade weeknight dinner. These skewers are all the flavors of a gyro, hot and herbal and garlicky. We ate the meat and the soft juicy tomatoes with fresh pita bread and poured tahini yogurt sauce over each bite. And it was delicious, just like gyros at the little takeout joints all over the city.
- ½ cup yogurt
- ¼ cup tahini
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 lbs pork loin or beef sirloin, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 tsp sumac
- 1 tbs dried thyme
- 1 tbs garlic powder
- 1 tsp aleppo chile
- 2 tbs salt
- 4 globe or beefsteak tomatoes, quartered, slightly underripe is best
- 2 tbs oil
- COMBINE the yogurt, tahini, garlic, and a half teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Mix it thoroughly and then set it aside.
- TOSS the meat and tomatoes with the sumac, thyme, garlic powder, aleppo chile, remaining two teaspoons of salt, and the oil
- SKEWER the meat and tomatoes, making sure each skewer has at least two tomatoes on it. This will take 6-8 skewers, depending on how long they are and how much you want to put on each one.
- PREHEAT the grill to a medium high heat or turn your broiler on high and set a rack to the second-closest position from the flame.
- COOK the skewers for about 12-15 minutes, turning them every 2-3 minutes until the meat is cooked through and the tomatoes are charred on all sides. If you are using the broiler, cook the skewers for about 20 minutes, turning them every five minutes.
Serve the skewers with pita bread or maybe some sauce, and douse everything liberally with the tahini garlic sauce. The leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge and they're excellent reheated for lunch.