When I was away at college, I spoke with my parents at least once a week. It was during one of these weekly calls that my mother told me about a sandwich that she and my father had for lunch one day while traveling to a neighboring town. The sandwich was called “The Zorba.” She described the ingredients, a mixture of ground beef, broccoli, and “ripe olives” which were served in a “pita pocket bread,” and promised to make the sandwich for me the next time I was in town. I know some of you are probably wondering what a “ripe olive” is, so let me explain. The olives that come in a jar with the pimento are called green olives, right? My mother considered the black ones to be “ripe”. I don’t know if they were ever actually labeled that way for sale, but I grew up calling them ripe olives until one of my roommates asked “What’s a ripe olive?”
Personally, I thought that my mother’s description of the sandwich sounded pretty weird, and I was not eagerly anticipating the day when she would make one for me. In fact, when she commented at the end of Thanksgiving weekend that she had forgotten to make me a Zorba, I was secretly happy I had managed to avoid the taste test.
“It’s okay, Mom.” I told her. “We had so much turkey and other stuff, we really didn’t need them. I’ll be home again. We can try it then.” I was hoping that she would forget. What I didn’t know was that she made these sandwiches for my father at least once a month.
It was when I came home for Christmas break that she finally was able to make the Zorba for me. I stood in the doorway to her kitchen which was near her stove and talked with her about the things going on at school as I watched her prepare this strange sounding mixture.
First, she chopped up some garlic.
Then she chopped up some onion. She probably only used one type of onion but I had two half onions sitting in the fridge.
Then she put all of it into the pan with some ground beef.
She cooked this until the meat was browned.
Then, she stirred in frozen chopped broccoli.
Finally, she added a 2.5 ounce can of sliced black olives that had been drained. I have been known to use a 4.25 ounce can of chopped black olives instead.
She continued to cook this mixture, adding black pepper and salt until the broccoli was cooked to her liking. I usually add only black pepper because of the saltiness of the olives, but my mom always complained that I don’t use enough salt when I cook. Taste it and decide for yourself.
The mixture was then served inside pita pockets that had been spread with mayonnaise, and served topped with shredded cheese.
To my surprise, it was very good. I guess you could call it “love at first bite.”
During Spring break, my mom wanted me to go with her to try the original sandwich upon which she had based her recipe. We drove 30 miles, and after completing some other errands, we stopped at the diner. After studying the menu, we couldn’t find the Zorba anywhere. My mom summoned the waitress who was new. She brought out the manager, and he told her that, sadly, the sandwich was no longer available. I don’t remember what we had for lunch, but I remember that I liked my mom’s Zorba Sandwich.
When I got back to the college, I made it for my boyfriend. He really liked it, too. He’s now my husband. I can’t promise that Zorba sandwiches will turn your boyfriend into your husband, but it worked for me. In fact, he’s the one who is responsible for this post. I asked what he wanted for dinner, and he said “You know something that you haven’t made in a long time? Zorbas.” Baker’s Man is really an awesome guy. Of course, I might be prejudiced.
Here’s the recipe. Please give it a try and let me know what you think.
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli
- 1 (2.5 ounce) can sliced or chopped olives, drained
- Salt and Pepper (to taste)
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 6 pita (pocket) breads
- Shredded Cheese or crumbled cheese of your choice
- Cook garlic, onion, and ground beef together in a skillet until meat is browned and onion is translucent.
- Drain off excess grease.
- Add frozen chopped broccoli and cook, stirring frequently until broccoli is nearly cooked.
- Add olives, and heat until broccoli achieves desired degree of doneness and olives are heated through.
- Cut pita's in half and open the pockets.
- Spread the interior of the pocket with 1 - 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
- Spoon in meat mixture
- Top with a couple pinches of shredded cheese.