Beefy Greek-inspired pitas
Flavors of the Mediterranean come forward in this satisfying and versatile family supper that’s ready in about 30 minutes.
Do you ever stand in front of your pantry around 3 p.m. and say to yourself, “what am I going to make for dinner?” It’s coming close to a year of COVID-19 that’s changed every facet of our lives, including how we plan meals and grocery shop. Remember the early stages of the pandemic when many stores were running out of staples? More menus had to be modified.
Whether you limit trips to the grocery store (like me) or you're snowed in for a day, the big plus to this recipe is its versatility. With pantry items like olives and diced tomatoes, as well as ground beef (which is likely in your freezer), you can have dinner on the table in half an hour. Just add the pita and funky feta cheese.
This recipe starts with the ground beef and Greek seasoning. I have a large jar of Greek seasoning in my newly organized spice rack. “But I don’t have that in my pantry,” you say? I’ll bet you do; you just have to blend it together. It’s basically dried oregano, dill, basil, parsley, black pepper, onion and garlic powder (or garlic salt). If you have fresh mint to chop up or a lemon to zest, all the better.
Let’s talk canned tomatoes. If you have whole San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry, yay you! I think these have the best flavor. Plus, these contain less herbs, spices, and sugar than stewed or diced tomatoes. Tip: Keep whole tomatoes on hand and you can do whatever you want with them. And another tip: Look at the labels and avoid brands with calcium chloride, which is used to help the fruit hold its shape but can also affect taste.
Moving on to olives. Black or green (or both) can work in this recipe. I was out of black olives, so I chopped up the green variety. Should you be out of olives but have capers, these will provide the same briny tang and also are an important ingredient to many Greek dishes.
Let’s cut to cheese. Feta, of course, is usually available in any grocery store. It can only be made with sheep or goat milk. Its salty taste comes from the brine that’s used in making it, and I love it. But let’s say feta’s funk is a bit too much for you or your kids’ palette. What else can be used? For consistency and crumble, ricotta would work well, and its flavor is very mild. Otherwise, any goat cheese would be a suitable replacement; just tear or pinch it into the recipe.
A sandwich needs to be dressed, right? Go the authentic route with homemade tzatziki (of course, store-bought sauce will work, too). It’s basically yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cucumber and mint.
And like most sandwiches, the bread can make or break the deal. Now, it’s just my opinion, but grocery stores near me do not stock decent pita bread (I can sometimes find better pita at Aldi’s but it’s not a guarantee). I can make a trip to a Middle Eastern market or make my own (it’s basically flour, salt, yeast, water, and olive oil). Oh no! You don’t have yeast on hand? This quick flatbread made with self-raising flour and plain yogurt couldn’t be easier. Stop it! You only have all-purpose flour in the pantry? Just add baking powder (1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour). A flatbread won’t have the pocket, but you can wrap it around the filling “taco style” without a problem.
So, this recipe is definitely versatile, but will your family like it? What’s not to love? Soft bread, seasoned ground beef cooked in a tomato sauce topped with cheese and a cool cucumber sauce—it’s all here. Serve these pocket sandwiches with a traditional Greek (horiatiki) salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese and olives (or capers) dressed with olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper.
Now, where did I put that honey jar and phyllo dough? I suddenly have a taste for baklava.