Lemon chicken is a staple in many households, and I think I can guess why. It doesn’t involve a trip to the grocery store. Grab some chicken from the freezer, a couple lemons hanging around in the fridge, add some garlic, white wine, butter, and dried oregano, and dinner is made.
This recipe for Chicken Souvlaki uses all of the same flavors and turns it into kabobs. Souvlaki means “little skewer” in Greek and my husband Longe and I enjoyed it no fewer than 10 times between the two of us on our honeymoon to Greece. We couldn’t get enough of how tender and juicy the meat was! One particular server tried to steer us toward lamb souvlaki, but we kept going back to the chicken.
The key to keeping the meat juicy is to push it close together on the skewer. The more surface area that’s available, the drier the meat will get. And while it may look pretty when you add peppers and onions to a kabob, the veggies and meat cook at a different rate so something either ends up undercooked or overcooked.
Here in the U.S., you’ll often be served souvlaki in a pita. It’ll be topped with tzatziki, and maybe some tomatoes and onions. However, each time we enjoyed souvlaki in Greece, it was served with either rice or potatoes. The rice had this gorgeous golden hue that I couldn’t figure out—where was it from? A kind server clued me into the secret: a pinch of turmeric. It adds only the slightest hint of ginger-like flavor but creates an absolutely gorgeous color. It’s also a well known anti-inflammatory which sure doesn’t hurt!
The rice makes a nice bed for the souvlaki to sit on, and it helps that making rice is no-fuss. If you find yourself scrambling for cooking directions each time you make rice, here’s my foolproof method.
First, the ratio is always two to one: 2 cups of water to 1 cup rice. Scale up or down accordingly depending on how much rice you want to make. I usually cook ⅓ cup of uncooked rice per person, or more if I want leftovers. Next put the rice and the water in a saucepan with some kosher salt (about ½ teaspoon per cup of rice). Turn the heat to high and wait for it to boil.
After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Set the timer for 20 minutes if you’re making white rice. If you’re making brown rice, it’ll take longer, usually 40–45 minutes. After the timer stops, take the pan off the heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Then lift the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve. A fork really is key here—it separates the grains nicely. I never rinse the rice before cooking, but if you’re into less starchy rice (one where the grains all distinctly separate), then go for it.
My favorite part about souvlaki in Greece was the tzatziki that came with it. Tzatziki is a yogurt based sauce flavored with cucumber, garlic, and lemon. When the meat is hot off the grill, the yogurt sauce cools it down nicely in your mouth, and the cucumber is so refreshing next to the savory meat.
The best tzatziki that I came across was served by a Greek woman whose husband owns a horseback riding farm. After Longe and I rode the horses up and down a nearby mountain (slightly terrifying, by the way), we headed in for a dinner of souvlaki, tzatziki, Greek salad, and several other Greek dishes that I hope to recreate here on the blog soon.
Using our guide as the translator, I asked for her tzatziki recipe and she named off the ingredients. When I came back to the U.S., I set to work finding the right ratio. After a few attempts, I think I got my tzatziki pretty darn close to hers.
The key is to press almost all of the water out of the cucumber after you grate it so that it doesn’t water down the tzatziki. And make sure to use full-fat Greek yogurt in this recipe—the finished tzatziki will be much richer and creamier that way.
So go raid the pantry and make this souvlaki! It pairs perfectly with this Classic Greek Salad.
Chicken Souvlaki with Golden Rice
Yield 2 servings
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup white rice (I like basmati)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- To serve: skewers
- Cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes. Place in a shallow bowl with the lemon zest and juice, oregano, garlic cloves, olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Place the skewers in a shallow pan of cold water and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes. This will protect them from scorching on the grill.
- About 10 minutes before you begin grilling the chicken, place 2 cups of water, rice, turmeric, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, typically about 20 minutes though it depends on the style of rice (check the package for exact directions). Remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and set aside.
- Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Thread the chicken onto skewers. Place on the grill and let cook for 2–3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Flip and continue cooking, turning occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 10–12 minutes total.
Yield 2 servings
- ½ seedless cucumber (use the other half in the Greek Salad)
- 1 (7 oz) container full fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Grate the cucumber using a box grater. Place the cucumber in a fine mesh sieve or strainer and place over a bowl. Use the back of a spoon or spatula to press the water out of the cucumber. Keep pressing until no more water is released from the cucumber. I got about ½ cup of water out of ½ of a cucumber (save it for a smoothie or juice!).
- Place the grated cucumber, Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Tip #1: You may find that the tzatziki separates slightly as it sits. This is normal—those cucumbers always have extra water hiding somewhere! Just give it a stir before serving and you’ll be good to go.
Tip #2: Instead of mincing a clove of garlic with a knife, you can grate the garlic on a microplane or rasp grater, which is a fancy word for a handheld grater with smaller holes than a box grater. It creates a garlic purée of sorts so you can avoid any large chunks of garlic in your dish.