These lamb-stuffed pitas are surprisingly easy to make and so full of flavor! Make arayes for your next get together with friends and no one will leave hungry (but they will all leave super happy.) Adapted from the cookbook Shuk.
You guys are going to love these arayes! I just know it. I received a press copy of Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, the latest cookbook from Einat Admony and Janna Gur and was flipping through deciding which tempting recipe to make. (Perk of the job, enough free Jewish cookbooks to start my own library. Not a bad idea!) Anyway, would it be Crispy Cauliflower with Bamba and Peanut Tahini Sauce or Cabbage Cake Stuffed with Beef, Rice, Nuts, and Raisins or Jerusalem Bagel Stuffed with Scallions and Feta or Whole Grilled Fish with Za’atar Chimichurri? I rarely see so many recipes in a cookbook I want to make. But they all looked so flavorful!
My husband was looking over my shoulder (or perhaps snuggling next to me, I forget) when I came upon the recipe for areyes. “I LOVE areyes!” He exclaimed. Well, decision made. We were making arayes.
We made a few tweaks, which I’ll explain below. And I used my homemade pita, which added a little time to the recipe but makes it extra special. He made a garlicy toum sauce and I made a simple tahini sauce for dipping. YUM. We were both very impressed with ourselves for this lunch.
If you love Israeli and Middle Eastern flavors but want some new twists on your favorites that are approachable, creative and of course delicious, you will love this book. Or if you’re missing the vibrant produce and spices of the Israeli shuks, you will also love this book. The flavors are taken up a notch with beautiful photos of the recipes and markets around Israel.
Back to the arayes. What are arayes?? These meat-stuffed pitas are popular at Arabic markets in the Galilee. Instead of grilling kebabs and then stuffing them into a pita, the raw meat is placed in the pita and the whole thing is grilled together creating a crunchy, juicy, meat pie of deliciousness.
Admony and Gur brush their pitas with beef fat, but we used olive oil and added a schmear of tahini sauce on the inside, along with using all lamb instead of beef and we added toasted pine nuts and za’atar to the lamb mix. These were incredible and even good as a cold late-night leftover (not that I know). You can use an outdoor grill or a grill pan/cast-iron. You want those sexy grill marks! Sha-lom! The tahini sauce and toum made excellent ayayes dipping sauces. Ready for my meaty close-up.
Fact: we ate one ayayes half before taking this photo. They smelled too good and we could not wait!
- For Arayes:
- 1 pound (455g) ground beef (We used 1 pound lamb and left out the beef)
- 5 ounces (140g) ground lamb (the fattier the better)
- 2 medium yellow onions, quartered
- 1 cup (50g) coarsely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Optional: 2 ounces toasted pine nuts
- Optional: 2 teaspoons za'atar
- 6 small (5-inch/12.5 cm) pitas, halved
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil or rendered beef fat (if you can find it)
- For Tahini Sauce (optional):
- 2 tablespoons tahini paste
- ¼ cup mayonnaise (Greek yogurt works too if you aren't keeping it parve)
- Juice from ½ lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Water to thin
- Put the ground beef and lamb in a large bowl and knead until nicely combined (we used just lamb so skipped this).
- Put the onions and parsley in a food processor and pulse to create a coarse paste. Wrap the mixture in a clean kitchen towel (no fabric softener, please!), twist the towel like a candy wrapper, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add the onion mixture (and pine nuts if using) to the ground meat. Add the salt and pepper (and za'atar if using) and knead again to blend thoroughly.
- To make the tahini sauce, mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl and add enough water to get a thick but runny texture. Or process in a mini food processor.
- Optional: Schmear the inside of the pita with a little tahini sauce.
- Stuff each pita half with about ½ cup (125 g) of the meat mixture. Gently press the pita halves between your palms to distribute the stuffing evenly. Make sure it comes all the way to the cut edge of the pita so that the meat can be seared by the grill fire.
- Generously brush both sides of each pita with the oil or beef fat (if you're using beef fat, melt it gently in a small pan until liquid first.
- To grill the pita: Make sure the grill is clean and heat it to high.
- Place the stuffed pita halves on the grilled and sear until they turn golden brown and have nice grill marks, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Cut each half into quarters (we skipped this part by mistake), and sear for 2 minutes on each of the sides with the filling exposed. Move the quarters to a cooler spot on the grill or turn down the heat, lay them flat again, and continue cooking another 2 to 3 minutes per side depending on your grill heat. By this time, the pitas will have absorbed the fat from the filling and will be juicy inside and crunchy and deep golden brown on the outside, and the meat filling will be perfectly cooked. Total grilling time will be about 12 minutes.
- If you're cooking indoors: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes to get it really hot. Working in batches, if needed, lay the stuffed pitas flat on the hot skillet in one layer. Sear them until they turn deep golden brown on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the pitas and sear for 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. Flip the pitas once again so the cut side (with the expsed filling) is now facing the skillet and sear for 2 to 3 minutes, until the filling is set and nicely browned. Transfer to a large plate and repeat to cook the remaining pitas. Let cool for a coup;e of minutes so you can handle them, then cut each pita in half. You should now have 24 stuffed pita quarters. Arrange the stuffed pita quarters on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
- Serve at once. (With tahini sauce or another dipping sauce oif you like.)
Reprinted with permission from Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, by Einat Admony and Janna Gur.