Recipes, photography & styling by Tanya Zouev.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not very good with deprivation. One of the reasons I found it so easy transitioning to Paleo eating is that I never feel deprived. I really am ok with not eating rice or bread or whatever, because there’s so much other beautiful nutritious and satisfying food to choose from.
A challenge I’ve met head-on is recreating Paleo versions of food I used to enjoy, but wasn’t particularly good for me. The idea for these Souvlaki Shop Grilled Chicken Thighs came from the chicken skewers that my husband and I used to buy in bulk from a shop in the suburb of Belmore, a Greek precinct in Sydney’s south-west. Years ago we used to venture out to the delis and take-away shops to stuff ourselves with chicken and lamb souvlaki then we’d bring home a heap of frozen meat skewers to cook another time. That was until one day I decided to read the ingredients list and realised there were flavour enhancers, sugar and other undesirables in the ones we were chowing down. We stopped buying the souvlaki skewers and eventually forgot about them.
About a year ago I had a sudden longing for the flavour of the chicken from Belmore: salty, garlicky, herby and distinctly Greek. After trying a number of different variations of marinade I came up with the below recipe which comes pretty close to the original without the flavour enhancers or sugar. I need to stress that you absolutely must use the wild oregano from Greece, not ordinary supermarket oregano. The wild oregano in combination with the other ingredients, especially the garlic powder, will give you the unmistakeable taste of chicken souvlaki. Though I’m not one normally to tout a high sodium recipe, this recipe does need to be (in my opinion) quite salty so add a little more than you usually would. Also be sure to marinate the meat at least one to two hours before throwing it on a hot BBQ grill to really get the most out of this delicious recipe.
Lastly, I’ve created a dairy-free sauce inspired by the ubiquitous tzatziki dip. I must credit the Real Food Chef Cynthia Louise for the inspiration of this particular recipe. I worked with her last year on her latest cookbook and seeing her create non-dairy replicas of traditional dairy-based recipes was nothing short of revelatory for me. I have taken her technique of using young Thai coconut flesh to make this zingy sauce that compliments both the chicken, and your Paleo lifestyle perfectly.
To serve 4-6. Prep time 1.5 to 2.5 hours (including marinating time), cooking time 20 minutes.
6-8 chicken thighs butterflied so they are the same thickness all over and trimmed of excess fat (leave a little on to keep them moist during grilling)
1/4 cup macadamia oil
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon garlic powder (don’t use fresh garlic, the dried version is what gives it the right flavour in combination with the wild oregano)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried wild Greek oregano, rubbed between your fingers so that it is fine (available at many continental delis)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
lots of salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle over after grilling
The coconut tzatziki
Flesh of two young coconuts (1/2 to 3/4 cup)*
1” piece of cucumber
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mint leaves (crush the mint leaves to fit into a tablespoon measure)
1/2 tablespoon fresh dill
1 clove garlic
salt to taste
* I have found that the flesh of young Thai coconuts can vary from coconut to coconut. The older the coconut, the harder the flesh inside, the younger the more jelly-like it is. If you happen across a coconut with firmer flesh and it doesn’t seem to be blending too well, try adding some of the coconut water. Better still, make sure the young Thai coconuts you buy are very fresh. (I buy mine at Woolworths.)
1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk. Put the chicken into the bowl and mix the marinade through, coating all the meat. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour to marinate, preferably two.
2. Grill on a heated BBQ grill until chicken is cooked through. (I like my chicken thighs well done which further adds to the Greek BBQ grill flavour.)
3. Let the cooked meat rest on a warmed plate and drizzle with the olive oil.
The coconut tzatziki
1. Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. (Whatever you do don’t throw away the coconut water, that stuff is liquid gold. Drink it up!)
Photography & styling notes:
I’ve used simple props and an old timber packing crate rescued many years ago off the street outside a studio I used to rent in Sydney’s Alexandria. The napkin is by Iveta Sarta of Moo Textiles, all the other props are from local op shops. The only light used is late afternoon window light and the camera used was a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24-70mm zoom lens.
I love a Greek BBQ and this kind of food brings back many memories of time spent in the company of Greek friends whose parents never failed to amaze with me with their incredible generosity. I adore Greek people on so many levels, from the passion for the cuisine of their homeland to the aeroplane dance they do at weddings and christenings. As a former wedding photographer who has personally shot at least two hundred Greek weddings, I say “opa!” to all Greeks in Australia and abroad.