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Jan 24, 2018
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Meatless Monday: Veggie Gyros

May 6th 12:05pm, 2013

You’re a fabulous foodie. But every now and then, you crave an offering from the food court – something you can hold in both hands and tear into without shame, or napkins. The mall gyro, with its salty feta, tangy tzatziki and pillowy pita, calls to me. I decided to create a vegetarian version at home, away from the scary mall meat.

Traditional gyros are made with piles of spicy lamb. Would piles of sauteed mushrooms satisfy? Nope. Shiitake mushrooms were too rubbery. Portobellos have a better texture but a ho-hum flavor. Perhaps using the same spices that season gyro meat would help. Problem solved. Marinating the portobellos in olive oil plus cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, salt and pepper gave my mushrooms an intriguing, snarf-worthy flavor.

I then wondered if my favorite meze, saganaki (aka fried cheese), could be just as tasty. Kasseri is a Greek sheep’s milk cheese that browns and melts beautifully, so I figured I’d start there. The steps for frying cheese are pretty basic: Heat oil. Coat cheese in flour and beaten egg. Sear cheese in oil. On my first try, the hot olive oil smoked up the kitchen and triggered the smoke alarm. More tragically, the eggs didn’t coat the cheese evenly. And the uncoated bits of cheese dissolved into lumpy, flour-packed puddles.

I’d been using olive oil, but canola oil has a higher smoke point, which significantly reduces your chances of a visit from the fire department. That was an easy fix, but what could I do about the uneven coating? Since I had watched streaks of egg white literally slide off the frying cheese, the fault laid in my slap-dash egg beating. For the second trial, I beat the eggs with a hand mixer, so the yolks and whites were fully blended. And instead of flour, I took a cue from Mai Lee chef Qui Tran, who dredges his tofu in cornstarch. Finally, I had foolproof fried cheese perfection. But I still used the  stove-top exhaust.

The last head-scratcher was the tzatziki. Most recipes require de-seeding cucumbers and draining the sour cream/yogurt over cheesecloth. Who has time for that? Instead, I sliced a seedless cucumber and gave the slices a cursory pat with paper towels. As for the sour cream and yogurt, I just drained the liquid from the containers. The resulting tzatziki was slightly more watery than restaurant tzatziki but totally passable. To satisfy a texture purist, thicken it with whipped feta. Yes, feta tzatziki on top of fried Kasseri is too much of a good thing. But isn’t that what the food court is all about?

Veggie Gyros
4 Servings

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. plus ¼ cup feta crumbles, divided*
½ cup sour cream, liquid poured off the top
½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt, liquid poured off the top
¼ tsp. freshly minced garlic
1 large seedless cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced and set on paper towels to dry
4 white-flour pitas
1 head romaine hearts, chopped
Portobello Filling (recipe follows)
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
Half of a large red onion, thinly sliced

• Add the lemon juice and 2 ounces of feta to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until the feta is creamy, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the sour cream, yogurt, garlic and half of the cucumber slices, and pulse 3 or 4 times, until the tzatziki is barely blended. Pour into a bowl and stir in the remaining cucumber slices. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
• Divide the pitas between 4 plates. Divide the romaine and filling of your choice evenly among them. Top with the tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and remaining ¼ cup of feta.
• Serve immediately.

* Don’t want feta in your tzatziki? Just add ¼ teaspoon of salt to the sauce.

Portobello Filling

¼ tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. smoked paprika
6 oz. (2 to 3 large) portobello mushroom caps
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. freshly minced garlic

• Mix the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
• Rinse, but don’t de-gill, the portobellos. Pat dry, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices.
• Place the mushrooms, oil, garlic and 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture in a quart-size Ziploc bag. Seal and let the mushrooms marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.
• Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is very hot, add the mushrooms (with their marinade). Reduce heat to medium and saute until the mushrooms are soft and slightly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Kasseri Cheese Filling

2 large eggs
½ cup cornstarch
6 oz. cold Kasseri cheese*
¼ cup canola oil

• Using a hand-held mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until they are foamy and the whites are fully incorporated.
• Pour the cornstarch into a Ziploc bag.
• Remove the Kasseri cheese from the refrigerator and cut into ½-inch thick slices. Place the cheese in the Ziploc bag with the cornstarch and shake until it’s well coated.
• Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water splatters. Working in batches if necessary, dip the cheese slices into the beaten egg, then carefully drop them into the oil. Cook until golden brown, 60 to 90 seconds per side. Carefully remove the cheese from the oil with a heat-proof slotted spoon.

* Available at Dierbergs, 8450 Eager Road, Brentwood, 314.962.9009, dierbergs.com

— photo by Carmen Troesser

By Kellie Hynes

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