In this Middle Eastern recipe Pita is stuffed with kofta, a seasoned lamb sausage and seared until crisp and served with tahini.
Arayes are meat-stuffed pitas, served filled with kofta, a Middle Eastern dish with ground lamb or beef mixed with aromatics and spices, commonly served as street food. They are seared and cooked, so the meat is juicy and tender inside the pita and crisp and fried on the outside. I use lamb in my arayes recipe.
As the lamb cooks, the juices seep into the pita to infuse it with rich flavor and help it crisp up. To balance the rich flavor of the arayes I like to serve them with light, creamy tahini sauce and hot sauce as well as fresh chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers paired with arugula.
The irresistible combination of spiced meat, usually lamb, and crispy yet chewy pita bread is easy to make. The meat kofta mixture can be made ahead of time to let the flavors meld, then packed into pitas and cooked. It’s the perfect dish to add to a busy weeknight menu. Enjoy it al fresco paired with a light arugula salad like below or a tomato and feta Greek salad.
This version of arayes is inspired by one of my favorite Israeli restaurants in Brooklyn, 12 Chairs. There are many variations on this popular Middle Eastern street food. The recipe doesn’t differ as much regionally among Syria, Lebanon and Israel as it differs from restaurant to restaurant. Egyptian hawawshi are also similar, seasoned with a mix of coriander, allspice, paprika, cumin, cardamom, and a bit of cinnamon.
Some versions use beef fat to brush the meat before searing it and the pita though I go with olive oil. They can also be made just in the oven, cooked at a high temperature until crispy or made on the grill so you get char marks. Other variations cook the meat first, more like a patty before serving it inside the pita – more similar to a hamburger.
Arayes are traditionally made over a charcoal grill. Some are made very thin, much more like a meat filled pancake, so they are extra crispy. This version has a bit more meat so you have more surface area to sear it. Some recipes also include pine nuts for additional nutty flavor and texture.
How to Make Arayes
Pulse the onion, garlic and herbs in a food processor until they are minced.
In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the lamb with the onion and herb mixture. Add the paprika, coriander, cumin and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day before cooking. While the lamb can be used immediately, letting it sit allows the flavors to combine.
Fill the pitas. Cut each pita in half widthwise. Divide the meat mixture into 4 equal pieces, spreading each evenly with the lamb mixture. Close and cut each pita piece in half again so you have 8 pieces total.
Cook the arayes. Heat a large cast iron skillet or other oven safe pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat through. Add the arayes, one of the meat mixture sides down on the pan. Sear the meat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Rotate and sear the other side for an additional 3 minutes.
Finish cooking in the oven. Lay the pita down in the pan and move the pan to the oven and bake at 400ºF until cooked to medium rare.
Add the tahini to a small bowl. Serve the arayes with tahini and hot sauce.
Key Ingredients in Arayes
Lamb – When buying lamb, look for meat that has a soft pink to red coloring, it will be freshest. If you aren’t using your lamb right away, unwrap it from the butcher paper and store it in an airtight container and refrigerate. In this recipe the lamb is seasoned with a flavorful blend of herbs and spices.
Olive oil – While all olive oil comes from the fruit of olive trees, it’s not all created equal. Extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined and made from pure, cold-pressed olives, giving it more of a true olive taste. Regular olive oil is made from a blend of both cold-pressed and processed oils. I typically cook with extra-virgin olive oil when deciding between the two. Olive oil has a lower smoke point than many other oils, making it better for lower temperature cooking. Save pricey olive oils for finishing the recipe where the flavors will really shine – like in dips, for breads and salad.
Seasonings – The lamb is seasoned with a combination of salt, pepper, paprika, coriander, cumin and cayenne. While it is best to buy spices whole and grind them just before using for the most potent, strong flavor (plus they last longer), it is usually easier to buy them pre-ground. I recommend changing out your spices about every two years. Store them in a cool, dry place.
Pita – Fluffy homemade pita is best for this recipe, although using store-bought pita is quick and easy.
Tips For This Recipe
How to prepare in advance: While this recipe is best cooked fresh, parts of it can be prepared ahead of time. The meat mixture can be made up to a few days in advance and stored, refrigerated, until ready to use. Letting the mixture sit gives it time for the flavors to meld and makes for more thoroughly seasoned arayes.
If the pan is not oven-safe or if more room is needed, then add the arayes to a baking sheet and move to the oven.
Substitutions: While I love the mild flavor of ground lamb, ground beef can easily be substituted in this recipe. Use 80/20 ground beef, meaning it has 20% fat which keeps the meat tender and juicy as it cooks. You can also try using half beef and half lamb for a uniquely flavored combination.
How to cook arayes in the oven: Stuff the pita as instructed below. Brush the sides of the pita with olive oil then bake at 400ºF until the lamb is cooked through and the pita is crispy, about 20 to 25 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
How to cook arayes on the grill: Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Stuff the pita as instructed below. Brush the sides of the pita with olive oil then add the lamb side of the pita to the grill, with one of the lamb sides on the grates. This method can also be utilized with a grill pan. The internal temperature of the ground lamb should read 160F.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this recipe, I recommend checking out some of these:
Add the onion, garlic, parsley and cilantro to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until the onion and herbs are minced.
In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the lamb with the onion and herb mixture. Add the paprika, coriander, cumin and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Cut each pita in half widthwise. Divide the meat mixture into 4 equal pieces, spreading each evenly with the lamb mixture. Close and cut each pita piece in half again so you have 8 pieces total.
Heat a large cast iron skillet or other oven safe pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat through. Add the arayes, with a meat mixture side down on the pan. Sear the meat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Rotate and sear the other side of the meat mixture for an additional 3 minutes.
Lay the pita down in the pan and move the pan to the oven (if needed arrange on a baking sheet), cooking until the lamb is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Add the tahini to a small bowl. Serve the arayes with the tahini and hot sauce.
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