My original plan was to replicate the shawarma at a restaurant in Berkeley called Holy Land. We love their combination of well-seasoned grilled meat, pickled and fresh vegetables, and spicy sauce. I asked the very nice owner how she makes her shawarma. Her daughter, sitting next to her, shook her head saying “she never tells her recipes.” Darn. Shawarma is hard to replicate at home because it is usually cooked on a large rotisserie-like cone that caramelizes the meat as it cooks. To get a good proportion of flavorful char to juicy meat at home I used a dry rub, cut the meat into long strips, and cooked them on a grill. Holy Land has pickled cabbage while I use pickled carrots. My version of the green sauce is my best approximation of the Holy Land schug, which brings heat and brightness. I also made shayma’s Yoghurt and Spinach Dip as well that night, which went perfectly with the rest. So, what I made was in so many ways different than the original (and not authentic)…but we ended up loving it for what it is. —monkeymom
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe was a solid winner in our family! There’s a lot of spice in this recipe but the overall dish is in perfect balance thanks to the sparkling acidity of the pickled carrots and cooling effect of shayma’s Yoghurt and Spinach Dip. At first glance it looks like a fair amount of work, but each component is very quick and easy to put together and can be done the day ahead very easily. When I was ready to start cooking, all I had to do was quickly cook the lamb and assemble the pitas, making this a perfect dish for casual entertaining. This flavorful dish will be part of our regular menu rotation now! - ChezSuzanne —The Editors
lamb leg, deboned and butterflied
green bell pepper
garlic cloves, sliced thinly
Pickled Carrots and Spicy Green Sauce
carrots, peeled and sliced
rice wine vinegar
serrano chili pepper
red pepper flakes
cucumber, cut into small chunks
pita breads (freshest you can find)
Tahini or Yoghurt & Spinach Dip, 'Borani Esfanaaj', in the Persian Manner
The next 2 steps (marinating the meat and pickling the carrots) must be done the day before grilling the meat. The 4th (making the green sauce) can be done the day before or the day of the rest of the steps.
Cut lamb into 2 inch strips along length of leg. Try to get even pieces that have about the same thickness from end to end so that they will cook evenly. Mix sumac, cumin, salt, pepper, sugar and cinnamon to make a dry rub. Distribute generously all over lamb and rub into nooks and flaps. Drizzle pieces with olive oil. Place lamb in large Ziploc with green pepper and garlic slices. Massage to mix. Let sit overnight refrigerated.
Slice carrots and place into clean jar or container with a lid. Heat water to warm it (I used a microwave). Then add salt, sugar and vinegar. Mix to dissolve. Pour over carrot slices. Let sit overnight.
Mix serrano, parsley, cilantro, garlic, oil, water, cumin, pepper flakes and salt in small food processor/chopper or blender (it doesn’t have enough volume for a big food processor). Pulse until smooth. Taste and add more lemon or salt if desired. Use immediately or let sit overnight.
The next day, remove lamb from fridge and let rest at room temperature for at least an hour. Grill lamb. Let sit on each side about 5-7 minutes. Test for doneness – they should reach 125 degrees to be pink inside.
While lamb is grilling, prepare spinach dip and assemble other ingredients. Heat pitas on the grill to warm them, but make sure they are still soft.
To serve, cut meat into bite-size chunks or slices. Stuff each grilled pita with layers of dip (or tahini), fresh vegetables, pickled carrots and meat. Serve with green sauce.
My favorite distraction is to cook. Though science and cooking/baking have a lot in common, I'm finding that each allows me to enjoy very different parts of my life. Cooking connects me with my heritage, my family, friends, and community. I'm really enjoying learning from the food52 community, who expose me to different ingredients and new ways to cook.