When I think of summer dinners growing up at home, I think of this meal. I think of the smell of charred garlic and basil; I think of my stepfather sweating at the grill, a slave to his stopwatch, the wrath of my mother should the chicken be the slightest bit overcooked driving his utmost concentration; I think of sitting at the table in our screened-in porch with my brother and sister and eventually Ben, too. I think of eating for hours, a time of considerably faster metabolisms. I think of the candles melting into the tabletop, the humidity just beginning to subside and the buzz of the crickets as we clear the table at the end of the night.
This is one of my favorite meals — grilled chicken, tzatziki, warm pita, and some sort of salad — and if you’re still thinking about what you might like to cook up on Memorial Day, this couldn’t be simpler to throw together: marinate the chicken and make the tzatziki in the morning; skewer the chicken while the grill is preheating; make a simple, refreshing salad somewhere in between. And if you’re still thinking about what to serve for dessert — rhubarb buckle? lemon-blueberry crisp? peach-blueberry cobbler? — or what to serve on the side — a simple, summery pasta salad? — or if you should make homemade buns for your burgers or not, I have collected a few ideas here.
Happy Memorial Day weekend, Everyone.
Chicken thighs marinating in olive oil, garlic, basil and oregano:
Skewered chicken thighs:
Cucumber, feta & mint salad:
Grilled Chicken Souvlaki
Serves 6 to 8
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
kosher salt and pepper
lots of basil (at least once cup packed), roughly chopped
3 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
extra-virgin olive oil
wooden or metal skewers
1. Wash and dry the chicken. Cut chicken into pieces roughly 2×2-inches in size — it’s ok if these are a little bit smaller or larger in size and if they are more rectangular than square, etc. Place chicken in a large bowl (if your fridge has space for it) or a large ziplock back.
2. Season chicken all over with kosher salt and pepper. Crumble oregano (about a teaspoon or two) over top. Throw in the basil and garlic. Pour olive oil into bowl or bag to submerge chicken.
3. Place bowl or bag of chicken in fridge. Marinate for at least four hours if possible. My mom always starts marinating this chicken the morning she plans on grilling it.
4. When ready to grill. Preheat grill to its highest setting (525ºF or 550ºF). Meanwhile dump chicken out onto a jelly roll pan. Skewer the chicken, trying to place similarly sized pieces on the same skewer if possible. When chicken is skewered and grill is hot, grill skewers for 3 minutes a side. Transfer to a platter.
5. Turn grill off. Place naan or pita on grill. Keep an eye on it — it should be warmed through and read to go after 2 or 3 minutes tops.
6. Serve chicken with tzatziki, lemon wedges and grilled naan.
Note: Use these measurements as a guide. I like my tzatziki garlicky, but others do not. Also, I have received comments on other posts that tzatziki isn’t tzatziki if it doesn’t have cucumber, but that’s really not true. If you like adding cucumber, by all means add it, but it is not necessary.
1 cup Greek yogurt (or plain yogurt, which will need straining*)
2 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. chopped mint
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
squeeze of lemon juice
*To strain plain yogurt, rest a strainer over a bowl. Line it with cheese cloth. Add at least a cup of yogurt to the cheese cloth because once drained, the amount of yogurt is considerably less than what you have started with.
1. Stir together the yogurt, onion, mint and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste. Add more salt or lemon or anything else if necessary. Chill until ready to use.
Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad
Note: Use these measurements as a guide. The dressing for the salad is simple: equal parts olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.
2 cups diced cucumbers (If the skin tastes a little tough, peel the cucumber)
feta cheese, crumbled
mint, thinly sliced (a tablespoon or two)
extra-virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
1. Combine cucumbers, feta and mint in a bowl. Toss with equal parts olive oil and white balsamic. As a reference, I used 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of vinegar for the 1 cucumber (about 1 3/4 cup diced) I diced up. Season with salt if necessary — the feta is salty, so go light to start.
Love this beer:
When my mother was in town, she made us this same meal, but served a Greek salad in place of the cucumber, feta and mint salad, and it was so so so delicious: