Recipe: Marinated Lamb Skewers and Tzadziki on Flatbread inspired by the Binghamton 'spiedie'
Peggy Lampman | Contributor
"Don't go back to Ann Arbor and start messing around with Spiedies. You can mess around with my man — heck, take him! — but don't you fool around with this sandwich. And if you do, well girlfriend, we've got problems."
That comment (directed my way by one of my husband, Richard's, cousins) sums up the general passion the Binghamton, N.Y., crowd has regarding the sandwich that ate their city: The Binghamton Spiedie.
Restaurants, delis, diners have created thriving businesses off of these marinated, grilled meat sandwiches. And if you decide to grill your own, area grocery stores are happy to accommodate, selling truckloads of pre-cubed meat and chicken, Speidie rolls and Spiedie bottled marinades. I'm fascinated by the way a simple shish-kebab housed in a soft roll has such a stronghold on a town.
But don't call them shish-kebabs. Oh no! Last year this faux pas was greeted with downcast eyes and a stony silence at the table.
"These are not shish-kebabs," Aunt Betty quietly informed us. "They taste better than shish-kebabs, they don't have vegetables on them and we serve them with sliced white bread or in a soft roll, like a sandwich."
Every year, Richard and I visit his relatives in Binghamton, his hometown, which is nestled close to the Finger Lakes region in the southern tier of New York. Last week's arrival, as usual, was greeted with Aunt Betty bustling about her kitchen steaming clams. The clams were followed by a drive across town to Sharkies, whose claim to fame, according to Wikipedia, was inventing the Spiedie in 1939.
A chicken Spiedie for me — time out on Aunt Betty's couch — then around the corner to Cortese, an Italian restaurant that's been a Binghamton institution since 1947. This is our ritual; we work this triangle every year.
After last year's trip, with the exception of the bun used, I recreated a Spiedie in Ann Arbor. I used lamb instead of chicken, pork or beef, because Aunt Betty tells me lamb makes the best and most classic Spiedie. I marinated the meat using Richard's Mom, Bernadena's, recipe, circa 1945. I was pleased: It tasted exactly like the Spiedies I ate in Binghamton.
But I kept thinking how good they'd be grilled with tomatoes or eggplant. And wouldn't tzadziki, that garlicky cucumber yogurt sauce, be a wonderful base? Those soft, plushy Spiedie buns and white bread slices could easily be replaced with an Indian naan-styled flatbread, so delicious when grilled. The temptation was too great. I decided to mess around.
There is advance planning when making a Spiedie. The meat or chicken should be marinated at least 48 hours and refrigerated. I've spoken with folks that marinate the meat up to a week. My resulting Ann Arbor version of Spiedie was delicious, and Richard and I consumed the following recipe with relish. But when I dared to call them Spiedies, he regarded me as if fangs had suddenly sprouted from my mouth.
"You can't call this a Speidie. Everything except the flavor of the lamb is dead wrong. With a Spiedie, the focus is on the meat and flavor of the marinade. The white bread is the perfect sponge to highlight the marinade and juice from the meat."
Richard did forgive my wandering eye, but I knew I'd struck a nerve. At last I understand that the Spiedie is so much more than a sandwich. It's a city's culture, her pride — the Binghamton Spiedie is, in fact, a state of mind. Observe the phenomenon for yourself. The annual Binghamton Spiedie Festival kicks off Aug. 5.
But don't tell them I sent you. I suspect after this blog there may be some bad blood spent; I messed around with their Spiedies.
Marinated Lamb Skewers and Tzadziki on Flatbread
Yield : 6 kebobs
Marinating time: 48 hours (also recommended up to a week, but I haven't tried this)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3-4 juicy lemons)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing on flatbread
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon crushed dry)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dry)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, divided
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
18-24 dozen Campari* or cherry tomatoes
Prepared tzadziki (recipe follows and many area grocers sell it ready-to-go)
3 (8.8 ounce) packs Tandoori Stonefire original Tandoori Naan* (2 naan per pack)
*I prefer using Campari tomatoes as they are larger than cherry tomatoes but small enough for kebobs. Unfortunately the store I was shopping at was out of stock. Many area grocers stock this brand of naan. I bought mine at Meijers.
1. Whisk together lemon juice, oil, herbs, garlic, onion and 1 tablespoon of parsley. Heavily season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place marinade in a resealable plastic bag large enough to accommodate meat or dish. Toss lamb with marinade, cover if in a dish, and refrigerate 48 hours, occasionally stirring or flipping bag.
2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat.
3.String marinated meat, alternating with tomatoes, on skewers and grill 3-7 minutes per side, depending on heat of your flame, or until cooked to desired doneness. While kebobs are grilling, brush each side of flatbread with olive oil and grill until just toasted, about 1-2 minutes per side (careful, it burns quickly if left unattended).
4. To serve, spread tzadziki over flatbread. Remove meat from skewers and sprinkle kebobs with remaining tablespoon parsley. Place on tzadziki and serve.
Ingredients for Tzadziki
1 large cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise, seeded, then cut into small (1/4-inch) dice (1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs (dill or mint, or combination of both)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup plain, strained, Greek-styled yogurt (I use Fage 2 percent)
Directions for Tzadziki
1. Place diced cucumbers on paper towels or in a fine mesh sieve; lightly sprinkle with kosher salt. Let drain 15-30 minutes, pressing into towels or sieve with spoon to release excess moisture.
2. To make the tzadziki, combine cucumbers with herbs, garlic and yogurt; season to taste with kosher salt, if needed, and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.