Monday, June 10, 2013

Grilled Lamb Shawarma with Cucumber Mint Yogurt Salad

Just in time for Father's Day, here is an easy but festive meal that is great on the grill and will warm any father's (and mother's!) heart.  Well-seasoned leg of lamb, grilled and sliced, folded into fresh warm bread, topped with a cool minted cucumber yogurt sauce - now that's enough to entice me to dust off our grill and sweep off our patio. 

My mother still tells the story of her first encounter with lamb in America.  As a young bride, she spent several months in her mother-in-law's house, and learned to eat American food for the first time.  For some special occasion, my American grandmother served her lamb with mint jelly.  My mother said that she tasted the lamb and it was good, but she couldn't figure out what the green gel on the side of her plate was.  She tasted it and found it very unpleasant, and so bizarrely sweet; for Arabs love lamb, and love mint, and even lamb with mint, but never sweet with savory.

This meal is a nod to that mint-and-lamb combination.  Both the lamb and the yogurt salad are traditional Palestinian recipes, but Palestinians would serve the yogurt salad on the side and use this tahini-lemon sauce on the shawarma. 

Shawarma:  Palestinian Street Food

Shawarma is a sandwich of grilled meats, topped with salads and sauces of your choice, all folded into a warm piece of bread.  The epitome of street food, you can find shawarma shops on every corner in the Old City of Jerusalem, and on every main street in villages throughout the West Bank.  Long before you see them, the scent of grilled, spiced lamb or chicken wafts down the dusty streets.  This is real fast food -- real ingredients, freshly prepared right in front of you.  Shawarma toppings are varied, but usually include grilled or pickled vegetables, fresh salads and sauces made from tahini, garlic, lemon and yogurt.  

Palestinians consider shawarma sandwiches too simple to serve to guests, and would rarely prepare them in their own home.  But now that I am far away from any shawarma shops, here is my recreation of a lamb shawarma.

Shawarma in Your Home

Start with a large leg of lamb and cut the meat from the bone, if bone-in (saved for stock!), and reserve some of the meat for another meal.  Cut the meat into large chunks to marinate.  You could leave it in one peice, but then the flavors of the marinade will not penetrate the meat as thoroughly. 

For the bread, you can of course use any quality pita bread.  We made our own bread by preparing a sourdough pita bread dough, brushing this with olive oil and throwing it on the grill beside the lamb. 
For toppings and sides, we served a refreshing cucumber mint yogurt salad, tahini-lemon sauce, and cucumber tomato salad. 

Lamb Shawarma

1 1/2 lbs grassfed leg of lamb, cut into three or four chunks
3 tablespoons vinegar
salt and pepper

Shawarma seasoning:
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cardamom

1.  In a small bowl, combine shawarma seasonings.  Place lamb in a bowl, pour vinegar over lamb, stiring well to coat and then add the seasonings.  Season with salt and pepper.  Make sure that the lamb peices are thoroughly coated.  Seal and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

2.  Remove the lamb from the fridge for fifteen minutes before grilling.  Grill over medium high heat, until the lamb is to desired doneness - we prefer medium, which means it should reach an internal temperature of 160F. 

3.  Let the lamb rest under a foil tent for ten minutes, then slice thinly and serve. 


Cucumber Mint Yogurt Salad

1/3 cup English or Mediterranean cucumber, diced small
5-6 torn mint leaves
2 tbsp cultured cream or creme fraiche (optional)

Sea salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve.

Grilled Sourdough Flat Bread

Olive Oil

1. Prepare dough.

2. To roll outside, grab a slipmat or a cookie sheet, a rolling pin, and some olive oil. Take this and your dough outside.

3. Roll out dough into rough circles, spread olive oil onto one side, and then place them carefully, olive oil side down, onto the grill. Check after three minutes, and flip when the bottom is cooked through.

May this double your health.

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  1. I wish I had some lamb!! This looks delicious. Does it taste like Gyro?

    1. Very similar, except since this is grilled, the meat is going to have a more tender texture. The flavors of the spices are also different. I hope that you like it!

  2. We love lamb! I can't wait to try this with the tahini-lemon sauce!

  3. Hi
    Wondering how this recipe would work using marinated, skewered chicken breast in an attempt to duplicate the vertical spit grilling that shawarma usually gets?


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