Week 9. This is when, depending on your team, it can be tough to muster up the enthusiasm to fire up the grill on Sunday. Your quarterback is out with a groin injury, your head coach is a psychopath, your NFC championship-caliber team won’t even break .500 this year, or worse, you cheer for a team in the NFC East. Or AFC South. Or AFC North. Don’t give in and sit on the sofa with a bag of Bugles. Don’t be the one who shows up at the tailgate with bag of still-frozen, unseasoned generic hamburgers. It’s still football. Show your other family you care.
Grilled Za’atar Chicken Pitas
A couple of weeks ago I got a request for a lean protein football grilling recipe and I immediately thought of one my favorite ways to make chicken skewers; Greek yogurt and the Middle Eastern spice mixture, za’atar.
Za’atar is a mixture of sumac, dried thyme, salt, toasted sesame seeds and sometimes dried savory, marjoram or oregano. The dominate taste comes from the sumac though; a tart, earthy spice that goes well baked on a pita, on poultry or in dressings. By using non-fat — but still thick — Greek yogurt you keep down the level of fat in your marinade, (unlike what I call “special chicken” which calls for a fair amount of butter) while still adding a lot of tang and richness to meat. It also makes for a nice char when you put the skewers over the fire. Lemon zest and garlic make it a party.
For a nice crunch and to carry the za’atar forward, a garnish of thinly sliced red onions, green peppers and in a light dressing compliment the grilled chicken once you stuff it all into a pita.
Chicken and za’atar marinade:
6 ounces non-fat Greek Yogurt (about a cup)
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
zest from 1/2 a lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 – 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, diced into large cubes and strips (A mix of white and dark meat is fine, or all dark meat.)
Onion and pepper garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon za’atar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1 large green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 – 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Metal skewers or wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for at least thirty minutes.
Pita or other flatbread of your choice
At least six hours before grilling, but preferably the day before, mix together the za’atar, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, minced garlic and Greek yogurt marinade together in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss together in the bowl until all of meat is well coated in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate until you are just about read to put it on the grill.
While you’re heating up the grill, wisk together the dressing for the onion and peppers; olive oil, lemon juice, za’atar, salt, and cracked pepper. Set aside and allow the flavor to develop. Toss with the sliced peppers and onions.
Thread the chicken on the skewers and when you have a nice steady medium-high heat, grill the chicken evenly on all sides.
Stuff pita with the peppers, onions and grilled chicken and serve. Or if you’re like me, keep watching the game through the window from the grill because you want to keep poking at the fire and you’re pissed you didn’t buy at least six other types of meat as not to waste a perfectly heated outdoor cooking mechanism.
Makes about 8-10 pita halves, so more than enough for your family or friends. Easily doubled or tripled for a large party.