When I head into Thessaloniki (from Halkidiki) it’s to grab a bite with some family and friends and each and every time – a culinary surprise waits for me – guaranteed! A conversation with my friend Yianni goes like this:
Me: I’m coming in to the city, what’s new, what’s hot – where shall we eat?
Yianni: There’s a great place for steak – aged and they cook it the way you like it.
Me: I don’t come to Greece for steak, anything else?
Yianni: you feel like seafood or meat?
Me: Tonight I’m in the mood for some meat – I ate fish and seafood all week, let’s have something Greek.
Yianni: let’s go back to Kordelio where we ate at that great seafood place back in May – the area is full of good, affordable restaurants. You in?
Off to Eleftherio-Kordelio we go. Yianni discovered these restaurants in this western suburb of Thessaloniki as his girlfriend lives there and truth be told – lots of dining options in this family-oriented neighborhood with lots of children in the playground and folks out for a stroll (volta) in the evening.
We arrived in Kordelio and sat down at a taverna called “Oneiro Ellas” (Dream Greece) and we ordered grilled and baked cheeses, an array of meat dishes (some seafood dishes are also on the menu) and the popular dish that I was recommended to order was this “souvlaki gemisto”… a stuffed souvlaki? Without even asking how this could be so..I was intrigued, curious to see what would appear on my my plate.
Patience rewarded, a plate of souvlaki was placed in front of me: thin slices of pork were wrapped around pieces of Feta cheese and secured with skewers and red peppers and onions in between each roll-up of meat. The dish looked awesome, there was in fact cheese in the pork (I was afraid most of it would have melted away) and the creativity impressed me.
My take here uses the cut of pork called “pork butt” and I thought that a firm white cheese would pair better with the pork – and it does! Pork butt comes from the shoulder area of the pig, it’s got fat running through the meat and when sliced thinly, it cooks quickly and the result is always tender and juicy.
You also want to use a firm, aged white cheese that doesn’t have too much moisture and therefore will hold up to heat. You may lose some cheese but most of it will stay in-tact – stuffed in your pork. A Graviera, Kefalograviera, a Hallouni or a Batso cheese would work in this dish. You also want pieces of pork that will just overlap and wrap your cheese so that the pork cooks through entirely – no one wants to bite into raw pork in the center.
Since this pork is thin and cooks quickly, a quick marinade is all that’s needed and classic Greek flavours are underlined here: onion, pepper, salt, pepper, lemon and Greek oregano. Everyone likes surprises (I do ) and this dish is a creative, fun take on souvlaki and perfect for parties. This recipe makes lots of little bites – you decide if you want one or two cheese-stuffed rolls of pork on a stick (more for appetizers) or secure three or more for entrée size. Either way, you’re in for a party in your mouth!
1 lb. of boneless pork butt
1/4 olive oil
1 small onion, passed through a box grater
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
wooden skewers (soaked in water for at least 2 hours)
1-2 small red onions, peeled and quartered
1 red pepper, cut into approx. 1 1/2 inch rectangles
approx. 12-14 small pieces of Kefalograviera, Graviera or Halloumi cheese, cut into small batons
lemon juice and dried Greek Oregano
- Place the pork butt in the freezer for about an hour to firm up, so you can easily cut thin slices. Once firm, cut into thin slices then place between plastic and gently pound with a meat mallet to thin cutlets that can be easily rolled. Now cut the pieces of pork into 2″ X 3″ pieces. ( you want just enough meat to able to wrap around the cheese and be able to cook thoroughly and quickly).
- In a bowl, add the olive oil, grated onion, lemon zest, black pepper, paprika and oregano and mix with a fork then add the pork and toss until well-coated. Store in a fridge for an hour and bring out of the fridge when you’re ready to assemble your cheese-stuffed souvlaki.
- Remove excess marinade from the pork and place a piece of your work surface and place a baton of cheese at the base of the pork and roll-up and secure with the soaked wooden skewer. Alternate cheese-filled pork with red pepper and red onion (should be able to fit roll on each skewer).
- Pre-heat your gas, charcoal or indoor grill to a medium-high heat. Brush/clean your grill surface and wipe with oil before grilling. Season both sides of your meat with sea salt and place on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes a side until nicely char-grilled (some cheese will ooze).
- Remove from the grill and place on a platter and squeeze fresh lemon juice on the souvlaki, a sprinkle of sea salt and dried Greek oregano. Serve with Fries, grilled pita bread and a cold beer.
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