May 28, 2011

My Vegetarian Version of The Gyro Sandwich (Tzatziki & Tandoori Paneer Tikka With Pita Bread)

Yesterday was reveal day in the world of The Daring Bakers and you’re most probably here so see my take on this month’s challenge. I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you because I decided to sit this one out for various reasons.

Instead, I’ll treat you to my version of this month’s Velveteers challenge. It was Asha’s turn to pick a challenge this month and she decided on a popular American-Greek street food called Gyro thought to have its origins in the Turkish Doner Kebab. Until she suggested it, I hadn’t even heard of this thing. The only thing remotely gyro-ish that I knew of was a gyroscope, and you cannot eat one of those!

Turned out a Gyro is a rather substantial sandwich made of pita bread filled with crisp and moist slivers of spicy meat, salad vegetables usually onions, tomatoes and lettuce with a cucumber-yogurt sauce/ dip called tzatziki. I understand the correct way to pronounce “Gyro” is “yeer-oh” though people refer to it as “zeer-oh”, jeer-oh” and “jai-roh”.
Apparently the name Gyro comes from the spiced meat for the sandwich, which is cooked on a revolving vertical spit from which thin strips are sliced off.

All I can say is that this sandwich is more of a “heer-oh” than a “zeer-oh”!! As far as I am concerned, street food comes a close second to home cooked food. Street food is usually uses local and very fresh produce, is put together just before you actually eat it, is very affordable and incredibly tasty and filling.

This kind of sandwich seems to be very popular right across the Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. While the basic pita bread, meat, salad and sauce remains the mainstay, the variations are in the type of meat, salad vegetables, the sauces and other accompaniments that come with the sandwich, or even in the way the sandwich is served.

So the core of the Gyro is meat in some form, so I had to come up with a vegetarian version of this sandwich. The Tzatziki, a variation on the North Indian cucumber raita, was easy and needed no change. Making Pita bread from scratch was also a breeze if you thought of it as a yeasted chappathi which was baked in the oven.

For the core filling, I decided to make some Tandoori Paneer Tikka for which I used this recipe. If you use slightly larger squares of paneer, you can grill them or pan sear them on skewers and serve them as an appetizer. I used smaller pieces of paneer since it was easier to put into a sandwich.

When putting the Gyro together, I realised there was a “spicy” element (Tandoori Paneer Tikka), a somewhat “bland and cooler” element in the cucumber-yogurt Tzatziki, and it really needed a “sweet and sour” element to truly balance it out. So I also added a Mango, Red Pepper & Raisin Chutney/ Relish to the mix and that made it out of this world!!!

As for the recipes for the Tzatziki and the Pita bread, I just went quantities which I found appropriate. All recipes will make enough for 4 servings.

Pita Bread

Pita bread is a leavened pocket flatbread which is popular throughout the Mediterranean the Balkan countries and the Middle East. It is round or oval in shape and can be cut in half so the “pocket” can be stuffed with various fillings. Pita can be soft or crisp and eaten with hearty meat or vegetable dishes, salads, sauces and dips like hummus, or used as wraps for fillings.

As I mentioned earlier, think of a leavened chappathi and you have some idea of what a pita is. There are people who make pita with all-purpose flour, with whole wheat flour or a mixture of both. I like to make my breads with a 2 : 1 ratio of all-purpose to whole wheat flour and this one is no exception.
Pita Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tbsp oil

2 tsp honey

2 tsp active dry yeast

about 1 1/2 cups water (warm water is not necessary)


You can do this by hand, but I always look for the method that means least effort for me, which in this case means my food processor.

Put the flours, salt, oil, honey and yeast in the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix well. Whisk them together if you are kneading by hand. Then add a cup of the water and pulse until everything comes together as a ball, adding as much more water as necessary. You do not need warm water here, so use water that is at room temperature.

Knead further until the dough is very soft and elastic, but is not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, rolling the dough in the bowl so it is well coated with the oil. Cover and keep aside to rise till double, for about 1 1/2 hours.

Once doubled, punch the dough to release some of the air and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out the ball to about 1/4" to 1/8” thick (not as thin as a chappathi). If your dough does not roll out well let it rest for about 20 minutes and the roll it out again.

Let the rolled out pitas rest for about 10 minutes and then bake them on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal or semolina at 220C (430F) for about 5 to 6 minutes till well puffed up and cooked. If you want crisp pitas you can bake them a little longer, but for making Gyros you need the pitas to be soft.

Place them on a tack or a clean cotton towel to cool so they do not become soggy. This recipe makes 8 pita breads.

Tandoori Panner Tikka

While paneer is not really the stuff that one would find in a Gyro, I thought it was a good replacement for the traditional meat. It is also a protein and a good way to add a Indian spicy twist to my vegetarian Gyro. Cooking it in the tandoori style also seemed a nice way of trying to keep with the origins of the Gyro (Turkey/ Greece) as the tandoori style of cooking came into India from thereabouts.

While the ingredient list for the marinade may seem extensive and a bit daunting, making Tandoori Paneer Tikka is really quite easy. For those of you who are new to this, Paneer Tandoori Tikka means spicy (tikka) paneer cooked in Tandoori style. Of course, the average home cook like me doesn’t usually have a tandoor in their kitchen so an oven, a grill or the stove top is just fine to cook this.
Tandoori Paneer Tikka

(Adapted from Tarla Dalal)


500gm paneer cubes (I used Amul paneer)

2 to 3 tbsp oil

For the marinade:

 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder

3/4 cup fresh thick yogurt

1/2 tsp ginger paste

1/2 tsp green chilli paste

1/2 tsp ajwain (carom seeds, Bishop’s weed)

1 tsp coarsely crushed fennel seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1 tsp oil

salt to taste

2 tbsp chopped coriander (optional)


Put all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and gently whisk together to blend. Add the paneer cubes and toss gently so they’re well coated with the marinade. Cover and keep aside for about an hour, or at least half an hour.

Heat about 1 1/2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Place as many pieces of paneer coated with the marinade on wooden skewers and place them in the frying pan. Cook the paneer on all sides until brown and done. Take them off the skewers once they have cooled and toss them with the chopped coriander. Keep them aside to use in the Gyro sandwich.

You can place just 3 or 4 paneer pieces interspersed with diced pieces of onion and bell pepper and cook them in the frying pan or on the grill and serve them as appetizers.

This recipe serves 4.

Tzatziki (Greek Cucmber Salad in Yogurt)

Somehow the word “Tzatziki” brings to my mind, images of men dressed in long white embroidered, pleated and skirted shirts, stockinged legs kicking out their legs while performing intricate dance steps! I’m probably confusing it with some other word, and I don’t know which.
Tzatziki is Greek, and is a cooling cucumber and yogurt sauce-like preparation that’s a lot like the North Indian raita. It is also an essential part of the Gyro.

It is important that the texture of Tzatziki is thick. So both the cucumber and the yogurt should not release liquid to make it watery. So the cucumber is sprinkled with salt to draw out the liquid from it before making Tzatziki.

If you do not have thick yogurt on hand, just put regular plain yogurt in a cotton or muslin cloth and hang it up for a couple of hours in the fridge or a cool place to drain out the liquid. The hung yogurt will be thick and creamy.

The true Greek Tzatziki is a somewhat bland preparation but perfect to balance out the other elements of the Gyro. Honey is not an ingredient used to make Tzatziki but I found adding a little gave mine a hint of sweetness which tasted good. Another great addition to Tzatziki is a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber Salad In Yogurt)


2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup drained or thick yogurt

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp chopped mint

salt and pepper to taste


Mix together all the ingredients except the cucumber till blended well.

Sprinkle some salt on the finely chopped cucumber and keep aside for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out the water from the cucumber to dry it out as much as possible.

Fold in the drained cucumber, garnish with more mint and refrigerate for about an hour before serving.

This recipe serves 4.

The Gyro Sandwich:

Assembling The Gyro:


8 pita rounds

1 recipe Paneer Tandoori Tikka (from above)

1 recipe Tzatziki (from above)

1 1/2 cup Mango Red Pepper Chutney/ Relish (optional)*

3 large onions, thinly sliced and caramelised in 1 tsp oil

3 large tomatoes, sliced and pan seared in 1 tsp oil

2 green bell peppers, julienned

1 1/2 cups julienned green cabbage


Start with a round of Pita bread. On one half of the round, spread some caramelized onions, pan-seared tomato slices, some julienned peppers and cabbag and then some of the Tandoori Paneer Tikka.

Top this with a table spoon or more of the Tzatziki and some of the Mango Red Pepper Chutney/ Relish. Garnish with some mint. Fold the pita round over the filling in half and enjoy your Gyro sandwich!

*Recipe will follow soon.


Whichever way you look at it, I think the Gyro is a winner!

The Gyro makes for a very well balanced and filling meal. From a nutritional point of view, there’s a nice balance of carbohydrates, protein and some fat and this is a sandwich full of the goodness of vegetables. It’s also a sandwich you can get kids (and adults) to eat very easily without actively stressing on “healthy”. I now because my daughter was actually willing to eat the salad part of it, including the cucumbers which was a first.

There’s also the contrast of soft to crunchy and the spicy-sour-sweet taste combinations that are always crowd pleasers.

Each part of what goes into a Gyro (the pita bread, Tzatziki, Tandoori Paneer Tikka and the other fillings) can all be made ahead so putting together this sandwich doesn’t take much time. In fact, if you would like to deviate from the traditional fillings of the Gyro, then this is a great dish to serve at an informal party or take on a picnic.

Just add some more vegetables like julienned carrot, sweet corn, maybe some potato crisps and maybe some other sweet and sour sauces. Place the sauces and fillings in individual bowls with the pita rounds on the side so that everyone can make their own Gyro with whatever they want in it!

The four of us (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and I) go Velveteering, as we like to call our kitchen adventures, with a new dish/ style of cooking/ cuisine every month. Each of us will share our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs.

If you would like to join us, please leave a comment at this post or send me a mail and we’ll get back to you.

This month’s Velveteers recipes:

Alessio : Crispy Pork Belly Gyros

Rajani : Veggie Gyros

Sarah : Lamb Kebabs And Pitta Bread