Vegan Arayes

July 12, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by Carolina Gelen
  • Prep time 50 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

This week’s episode of Choose Your Own Recipe Adventure brought the challenge of creating a veggie-forward dish that pairs well with tahini and nuts. The wildcard of this episode was not having access to most of my kitchen tools—the only utensil I was allowed to use was a knife. Challenge accepted!

I drew inspiration from an amazing Middle-Eastern dish, arayes: pita pockets stuffed with spiced, minced meat, then grilled or baked. To me, the beauty of arayes is how all the juices, flavors, and drippings you’d normally lose cooking the meat in a pan are absorbed into the bread. Another aspect I really appreciate? How compact and easy to eat they are. You know when you’re devouring a burger and halfway through eating it, things start to go south? Juices are dripping down your arms, an onion slice falls on the floor, the soft bun starts to disintegrate… That won’t be the case with arayes. Every bite is sturdy and, of course, crazy delicious.

My take on this wonderful dish was veganizing it. The audience decided the main ingredient in this recipe should be vegetables, so instead of the traditional minced lamb or beef, I made a rich, minced vegetable stew using mushrooms, peppers, carrots, and onions as the filling. It’s just as rich and flavorful as the classic version. The walnuts add textural contrast and the tahini sauce brings everything together. I hope it will become your new barbecue staple. —Carolina Gelen

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Vegan Arayes
  • Arayes
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms (button, baby bella, oyster, any kind works), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 handful chopped fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
  • 6 to 8 pitas with pockets, halved
  • Tahini sauce
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
  • 1 pinch of kosher salt
  1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Cook the onion and carrot for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is slightly translucent.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the tomato paste and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until softened.
  3. In order to shorten the cooking process, use your hands to squeeze the mushrooms to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Throw them into the pot. Add the walnuts, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper. Using a spatula, press the mushrooms to increase the surface contact. Cook the vegetables, stirring every 5 minutes, then pressing down, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and have a deep, dark brown color.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and 1/3 cup of water. Mix 1 tablespoon of the hot vegetable mixture into the slurry to temper it. Pour the slurry into the pot and vigorously stir to combine.
  5. Continue to cook for 2 to 3 more minutes, until thickened. Season with a big pinch of salt, then set aside to cool. You can store the filling for up to 1 week in the fridge, or up to 2 months in the freezer.
  6. While the filling cools, make the sauce: whisk the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a bowl. The mixture will be thick and clumpy. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until the tahini sauce is as thin as you like (I use about 3 tablespoons). Set aside.
  7. When the filling is at room temperature or cooler, stir in the herbs. Now it’s time to assemble the arayes. Fill each pita pocket all the way to the edge with the vegetable filling. Flatten the filling on the cut side (you'll be grilling this side). Grease the outside of the pita with the spiced oil from the filling (there should be plenty of it swirled around the veggies, but you can use additional olive oil if necessary).
  8. Prepare a grill for high heat or heat a cast-iron skillet over high. Starting on the cut sides with the mushrooms, grill the stuffed pitas on each side until crisp and nicely charred.
  9. Serve the arayes with the tahini sauce for dunking.

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Carolina is a resident at Food52. She's also one of the hosts of Choose Your Own Recipe Adventure, our YouTube show where our Food52 readers pick the ingredients and techniques for a brand new recipe. Carolina recently immigrated to the U.S. from Transylvania, a place she spent most of her life. She continues to get inspired by the classic Romanian and Hungarian foods she was raised on, creating approachable, colorful, and fun recipes. For more cooking ideas and candid moments, check out her Instagram @carolinagelen.

1 Review

tdnew555 July 13, 2021
Carolina's recipes are great. And so is her presentation! 5 Stars