Easy Greek Lemon Chicken Skewers with Garlicky Yogurt Sauce
After a relatively chilly May, for Greek standards that is, the summer came in full force. The high temperatures of course led crowds of people to swarm the beaches around Athens especially during the weekends. Ourselves, we are trying to visit them as early as possible, to enjoy some calmness and have an opportunity to simply watch the sea and listen to the waves, after a little swimming of course.
These days we are looking into places to explore during the summer vacations. Last year, we went to Kythira, a less-touristy island south of the Peloponnese. It was a beautiful place, with many spectacular beaches, good food and a serene atmosphere. One of the great things about living in Greece is that it has many places one can visit to enjoy the sea, both in the islands as well as in the mainland.
A trip to Kalavryta and mount Helmos : part II
In our last post with the black-eyed peas we mentioned a trip to a mountainous area of the mainland, where the town of Kalavryta is located (on mount Helmos). We wanted to share our experiences from visiting this place, which was really amazing. And since there were a lot of things to say, we promised that in the next post we would continue.
For those who missed the last post (also recommended because of the healthy recipe that it includes), Kalavryta is a small town/village on Helmos mountain. A village rich with history and definitely one of the most popular destinations for a trip from Athens. So without further ado, we will continue with our experiences from this visit.
The Holocaust of Kalavryta
One of the main reasons the town is known for, is the painful history of the Massacre or Holocaust of Kalavryta: the total destruction of the town by the German army on the 13th of December 1943. Together with Oradour-sur-Glane, Khatyn and others, Kalavryta is a place where a despicable crime took place.
So what happened in December of 1943? The German army burned the surrounding villages, threw the monks of the monasteries of the area from cliffs and then moved into the town of Kalavryta. There, they locked all the women and the children in the school and set it on fire to burn them alive. They proceeded with all the males over 12 years old, to a hill overlooking the town, and machine-gunned them. They didn’t stop there; they set the whole town on fire, after looting it, and then they left to burn the historic Agia Lavra monastery as well and kill the monks there too. Miraculously, the women and children managed to escape from the burning school, only to find their sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers murdered and their town obliterated.
In the place where they murdered the people of Kalavryta, in the very same hill, there’s a memorial that we visited, with a large white cross dedicated to them and some crosses with names of the victims. There’s also a tomb-like chapel, where candles are lit for the victims of this massacre.
The stone statue that you see in the photos is dedicated to the mothers who survived the fire, to bear witness to the horrors. In the town, the school which they set on fire back then is rebuilt and it’s now the Kalavryta Holocaust Museum which one should visit so that one never forgets these crimes. We must all stop them from ever repeating in the future. If you visit the town and wonder why the left clock in the cathedral is always at 14:34, it’s to mark this event. It’s the time the horror started.
We also visited the historic monasteries in the area, Agia Lavra and Mega Spileo. The pictures that you see are from the latter, which is built on a steep slope under a huge cliff with an amazing view of the area. Originally built in 382AD and rebuilt after fires through the centuries, it’s a beautiful construction with wonderful frescoes in a calm, serene surrounding. We walked on a small stone-paved pathway that extends from the entrance of the monastery to a beautiful small building in the other end, surrounded by trees and lush green plants. Then we lit a candle in the church at the entrance before leaving.
The Ski Resort
After the monastery, we went to the second place for which Kalavryta is known for: the ski resort on the Mount Helmos. Of course, when we went there it wasn’t winter time so there was no snow and no skiers as you can see in the photos:) But still the area around it was so beautiful: full of trees and mountain streams, scenic trails and spectacular views!
If one visits the ski center during the winter, the scene is dramatically different. There are hundreds of cars, and on the weekends thousands of skiers arrive to enjoy the slopes, which are suitable for all the levels of expertise. There’s a large chalet which hosts a cafeteria and a restaurant, shops to rent gear, and school for ski lessons. With 14 tracks, 25km long in total, ample parking and proximity to Athens, it’s no wonder this place is crowded when it starts snowing.
The Springs of Planitero
After walking in the forest around the ski resort, we got back in the car in order to visit another beautiful place in the area, the springs of Planitero. Planitero is a small village at the sources of the river Aroanios. We loved this place from the first moment we stepped foot on it. Nature at is best: natural springs, small waterfalls and a lush plane trees forest make this place unique.
With small pathways, bridges, a stone-built mill nearby and a couple of trout farms (which also serve grilled fish), this was an amazing, relaxing visit. Walking among these trees, near the banks of the small river and listening to the birds and the sound of the water flowing downstream was a memorable experience.
There are also small stalls selling traditional homemade Greek spoon sweets, like quinces, apricots, unripe walnuts in syrup and herbs and many more delicacies. They also sell some of the best honey out there, at reasonable prices. If you visit the area, don’t forget to take some of these with you. They are all so incredible on high quality Greek yogurt!
Having walked that much in so many places, upon returning to Kalavryta, we went straight to the taverns which offer a great variety of appetizers, grilled meats and veggies, as well as homemade-style cooked meals.
One of the most popular Greek foods, which was of course available in this town too, is the souvlaki (skewers).
As the story of our trip to Kalavryta ends here, let’s talk about souvlaki and a recipe for it, that we wanted to share with you for a long time.
Souvlaki: Meat on Skewers
Souvlaki literally means little skewer. It’s a simple food; pieces of pork or chicken threaded on skewers. It has been consumed in Greece for millennia. Archeologists found evidence of meat that’s grilled on skewers in Santorini, dating back to around 2000BC. Similar discoveries have been made in ancient mainland Greece too.
This type of cooking is mentioned in texts by Homer, Aristotle and others. So it’s no wonder that souvlaki remains to this day the most popular Greek fast food / street food, and it’s available throughout the country.
Souvlaki is served with pita bread or bread slices on its own, still hot from the grill perhaps with a few drops of the juice of freshly squeezed lemons. It can also be served wrapped in pita bread, usually with tzatziki sauce, a couple of tomato slices and a few onion slices. Paprika and parsley are also sometimes added. In the last few years, most souvlaki shops also add French fries in the wrapped souvlaki, which we do not recommend as they tend to get mushy squeezed in the pita with the tomato and the meat. Fries can be an excellent side dish for souvlaki though.
When wrapped in pita, souvlaki looks very similar to gyros, the marinated pork or chicken shavings from meat that’s been grilled on a vertical rotisserie. Together with gyros, wrapped souvlaki is the Greek equivalent to tacos, shawarma, doner kebab and other similar pita-wrapped street foods around the world.
Greek Chicken Skewers (Chicken Souvlaki)
The most popular meat for souvlaki in Greece is pork. The second most popular is chicken. Contrary to recipes that we see online that are serving Greek style chicken skewers (chicken souvlaki) with tzatziki, this is not a common thing here in Greece. Usually the sauces that are used as a condiment for chicken souvlaki are mustard-mayo-based.
That being said, since those sauces are a bit fat, and since it’s also summer, we wanted to share a recipe for sauce which would have fresher, herby taste. So we made a garlicky-lemony mint yogurt sauce instead of tzatziki (and instead of a mustard-mayo sauce) which works great both with pork as well as chicken skewers. Keep the recipe for this dip / sauce. It’s really versatile and you can also serve it with toasted bread, grilled pitas, grilled or fried vegetables (like these zucchini fritters etc.)
The quantity of ingredients in the recipe below is enough for a small bowl of sauce, to try it as a dip for the chicken skewers. If you want to serve more however, simply double or triple the ingredients (for instance: use 1 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt instead of the 3/4 of the classic small Greek yogurt packaging and double the rest of the ingredients too).
The secret to great souvlaki, is marinating the meat. For chicken skewers, we always prefer using thighs and marinating them for at least 3 hours (in the fridge of course). We have tried marinating the thighs for up to 5 hours for best results. Now, if you don’t have that much time before grilling the meat, then marinate it for at least 1 hour. Give the marinade a little time to infuse the chicken with flavors.
We suggest using the thighs for chicken skewers, as they don’t dry out as quickly as the chicken breast does. Moreover, thighs are tastier as they have a little fat, which the chicken breast lacks. You can use the same recipe for chicken breast if you prefer though and it works just as good.
The marinade, is a flavorful Mediterranean marinade with dry herbs, olive oil, garlic, lemon and little mustard. The special ingredient, that defines its flavor and really makes the chicken skewers unique, is the fenugreek powder.
One of the most delicious recipes with fenugreek on the blog, was this one with the oven baked meatballs with potatoes. It was back then when we started using it more in our cooking and were really excited about it:) If you are wondering how it smells like, it has a strong spicy maple syrup-curry-like aroma. So, a little of the spice goes a long way. Buy a small quantity (it’s also easily available online) and use it in marinades and grilled /roasted meats, veggies. You can even add a little in rich stews and it’s perfect with lentils, chickpeas or beans.
In this recipe we added a few peppers and onion in the skewers. This way the skewers look beautiful and the veggies add some texture and flavors too. But you can use the recipe without adding any vegetables, they are entirely optional. In fact, if you use the recipe for the first time, you may omit the vegetables in order to really appreciate the flavors of the marinade.
Cooking the skewers
You can grill the chicken souvlaki on the barbecue, roast it in the oven, cook it on a grill pan on the stovetop or use your oven broiler. Of these methods, the first one is our favorite. Nothing beats the flavor of skewers grilled on the barbecue. The second most favorite option, is using the oven broiler, as it is faster and the meat does not dry out as much. We will describe how you can do this in the recipe instructions below. Using a grill pan is not suggested for this recipe unless you only cook a few of the skewers and freeze the others for future cooking. It takes longer to cook thoroughly the chicken on the grill pan, as you need medium heat to allow it to cook the meat properly.
This recipe makes around 20 skewers. Grill / broil them in batches and leave a little space between the skewers to allow them to cook properly. When each batch is ready (the meat is ready when it’s no longer dark pink in the thickest part), you can place the skewers in a sealed container to keep them juicy and tender as you proceed to cook the next batch.
Serving the skewers
You can serve the chicken souvlaki on grilled Greek pita breads sliced in 4 pieces, or on toasted bread slices. If using pita bread, simply brush them with a little olive oil, and cook for a couple of minutes per side, either on the barbecue or under the broiler, the same way you’ll cook the skewers.
Serve them with the sauce in a bowl on the side and optionally with a Horiatiki Greek salad too. Souvlaki goes perfect with a cold beer, as most people enjoy them here during the summer.
Here’s how to prepare these yummy chicken skewers:
For the skewers
- 1kg / 2lb boneless chicken thighs *
- 60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
- 125ml (1/2 cup) fresh lemon juice (the juice from about 3 1/2 medium-sized lemons)
- 3 tablespoons mustard (preferably Dijon)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons coriander powder **
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek powder ***
* You can also use chicken breast, but for skewers, we recommend using thighs.
** You can also replace this with a handful of finely chopped fresh parsley which also works great.
*** Don’t skip this, it makes a huge difference; you can use this in countless marinades.
Optional ingredients for the skewers:
- 2 large onions cut into wedges
-4 large bell peppers with different colors, cut into 3-4 cm / 1-1.5 in pieces
For the Garlicky Mint Yogurt Sauce *
- 200g / 7oz (about 3/4 cup) Greek yogurt
- 1-2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 medium-sized lemon)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 10-12 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
* You can double or triple the quantity of the ingredients if you want to serve a larger bowl with dipping sauce (for instance: use 1 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt and double the rest of the ingredients too).
Optional, for serving the skewers:
- 10 pita breads
If using wooden (bamboo) skewers, as we do in this recipe, soak them in water for at least 1 hour before using them (pic. 1). Even better, put them in a sealed container and soak them overnight in water. This way they last longer on the grill without burning up.
First, make the garlicky mint yogurt sauce ahead, to allow the flavors to develop:
Add all the ingredients in a bowl, in the order they are mentioned in the ingredients: Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, mint leaves (pic. 2). Mix well with a spoon. Don’t worry if it looks separated in the beginning, keep stirring and everything will be incorporated just fine. After a minute or so, the dipping sauce will be ready (pic. 3).
If using onions and peppers, cut as mentioned in the ingredients list and place them in a large bowl. Mix (pic. 4). Unroll each chicken thigh and cut it into about 3.5-4cm / 1.5in pieces (pic.5). Set aside.
Prepare the marinade:
In a large bowl add the lemon juice, the olive oil, the mustard, the salt, the pepper, the coriander powder (pic. 6), the garlic, the oregano, the thyme and the fenugreek (pic. 7).
Whisk well, until everything comes together (pic. 8). Add the chicken pieces into the bowl with the marinade and fold everything together to coat (pic. 9). Cover with film and place in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 5 hours.
Thread the chicken and the vegetable pieces into skewers (pic. 10). If a chicken piece is a bit elongated, then thread both its ends.
To broil the chicken skewers:
Preheat the broiler and place about half of the skewers on a rack with an aluminum foil-lined pan underneath (pic. 11). Place the rack in the upper oven position. Broil for 10 minutes, flip on the other side and broil for 5-6 minutes more, or until cooked through. The time varies depending on the broiler temperature and the distance from the broiler. So, when the meat and the veggies get some color and are slightly charred, flip them over.
Place the cooked skewers in a large sealed container and continue broiling the rest of them.This way, they will remain nice and juicy and won’t dry out.
If you serve them with pita breads, then brush the pitas lightly with olive oil (pic.12), on both sides and broil for 2 minutes, until they start to get a nice darker color. Flip them and broil for 1-2 minutes more. Stack a few broiled pita breads together and cut them into 4 pieces with a bread knife.
Serve the pita bread on the bottom, with the skewers on top and the garlicky yogurt sauce on the side.
Kali oreksi, let us know what you think if you give this a try!
1. Use thighs instead of breasts when making skewers. They taste much better and won’t dry it when you broil/grill them.
2. Cut your meat and veggies in relatively uniform-sized chunks, for uniform cooking.
3. Don’t overcrowd the rack with skewers. Broil/grill them in batches, as you need a little space between the skewers to cook them properly.
4. Always soak the bamboo skewers, if using. If you grill skewers often, then opt for the metal ones but choose some with flat sides. The flat sides will prevent the meat from spinning on the grill.
5. If you have leftovers, then remove the meat and the veggies from the skewers and place in a sealed container in the fridge. You can reheat them on the next day in a convection oven for a few minutes, and serve with French fries, a salad or a bed of rice.
6. If you cook the skewers on a grill pan then use medium heat, flip them often, and cook for at least 20-25 minutes. This means that you will need a lot of time for all the skewers, so it’s not recommended unless you only cook a few of them and put the rest in the freezer.