On a trip to Greece, we set up camp just off the beach at the bottom of a huge cliff; to reach this location we walked down a steep path through an ancient olive grove. The next day we headed back up the path to gather wood for the cooking fire, returning to camp for a memorable cookout.
Very proud of ourselves after our meal, we were enjoying a relaxing after-dinner coffee when our troubles began. A little old Greek lady, dressed head to toe in black and leading a donkey, marched up to our campfire and began to read us the riot act … the Greek riot act.
We endured a half dozen more visits from little old ladies dressed in black over the next few days, all of them leading donkeys, and all with the same outcome.
The problem turned out to be that we were not to touch the wood on the ground; it was used by locals and was not for use by outsiders.
But the Greeks did “give” us two recipes for Souvlaki (shish kabob) and Tsatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce).
To make Souvlaki marinade, whisk together 1½ cups olive oil, three crushed garlic cloves, ? cup fresh lemon juice, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, two tablespoons each of dried oregano and mint, one teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon allspice and one teaspoon ground black pepper.
Pour over three pounds of lamb, cut into one-inch pieces, coating evenly. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Next day, thread the lamb onto skewers; if using bamboo ones, remember to soak them a good 30 minutes before using to avoid combustion.
After oiling the grill, cook the shish kabobs on high heat. Turn the skewers a couple of times while cooking, brushing with the marinade, and salting to taste.
About 10 minutes of cooking time — or until the lamb is crusty on the outside and pink and juicy on the inside — should do the trick.
To make a tasty Tsatziki sauce, combine two cups of plain yogurt, whisked smooth, one cup grated English cucumber, two crushed garlic cloves, two tablespoons each of crumbled dried mint leaves and finely minced fresh parsley and a pinch each of salt and white pepper.
Cover and chill for three to four hours to blend flavours.
To finish off your feast, brush a light coating of olive oil on some pita breads and toast until lightly brown. A little Greek salad and a dish of humus also go well here.
If you serve the kabobs hot, garnished with chilled Tsatziki sauce, lemon wedges and mint with warm pita bread on the side — just right — you may be able to hear the echo of an old Greek lady leading a donkey and yelling at tourists.
A glass of Retsina with the meal will make it even more authentic, but is not advised unless you like the taste of pine tar.
Remember to buy locally when in season. Cucumbers are available now.