Souvlaki is a traditional Greek street food and a type of kebab. You prepare it by marinating small chunks of meat and sometimes vegetables, piercing them with a skewer and then grilling the skewer over high heat. Depending on the type of meat used and how the kebab is served, souvlaki can be light and healthy or a meal worthy of a splurge.
In restaurants and street stalls, souvlaki serving sizes and ingredients vary widely. In general, however, a 270-gram serving of pork souvlaki with a pita has about 500 calories, 19 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 22 grams of fat, 10 of which are saturated. The same size of chicken souvlaki has 360 calories, 3 grams of fiber and only 7 grams of fat, 2.5 of which are saturated.
Ways of Serving
At its most basic, souvlaki is simply the skewer with meat pieces, which you can eat out of your hand. Traditionally, however, the skewer is served wrapped in pita bread as a sandwich or on a platter with pita wedges and a side salad. When pork souvlaki is served wrapped in pita along with vegetables and feta, the portion size balloons to about 440 grams and the calorie count to more than 800, with 46 grams of fat. The same-sized portion of chicken souvlaki then has nearly 700 calories, with 30 grams of fat.
Dry-roasted souvlaki tends to be lower in fat and calories than souvlaki served with a sauce or dip. One popular accompaniment to souvlaki is tzatziki, a sauce made with yogurt and cucumbers. Drizzling two tablespoons of tzatziki on your souvlaki adds about 50 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. Serving with feta cheese or olive oil will also make the dish richer. One ounce of crumbled feta adds 75 calories and 6 grams of fat, and a tablespoon of olive oil adds 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat.
In some souvlaki, sodium contents can be a concern. Processed meat, pita bread and feta cheese are all relatively high-salt ingredients, and combining them in a single dish can mean going over your recommended daily sodium limit. A pork souvlaki in a pita with veggies and feta has about 800 milligrams of sodium, which is more than half of the 1,500 milligrams the American Heart Association recommends sticking to every day. A larger pork souvlaki plate with the addition of tzatziki has a whopping 1,320 milligrams of sodium. When you consistently eat too much sodium, you have an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure.
Making Healthier Souvlaki
Most souvlaki is made with pork, but making it with chicken, lamb, fish, veggies or beans can save calories and fat grams, especially saturated fat, and even increase the total protein content. If you’re making souvlaki at home and are on a diet or just want to prepare a healthier version of the dish, use a lean meat, bean or veggie for your skewers. Serve the souvlaki on a bed of greens, go easy on the tzatziki and other add-ons and wrap in whole wheat pita bread instead of pita made with refined white flour.