Posted On: 05/01/2013
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?
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