You watch enough football, you go to enough bars, at this point you’ve probably had your fill of quesadillas. Too much meat and too much cheese or not enough meat and not enough cheese. Greasy and fried in butter or dry as a bone. We like to think the quesadilla is a pretty safe menu options when we head out with friends to watch the game, more often than not they fall short. You can make quesadillas at home, but they take a fair amount of work and need some serious attention while grilling — is cheese melting, have I burned the tortilla — which isn’t the best combination when dealing with tight windows of time during the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
What if I told you there was a quesadilla-like snack that’s easier to make? Full of beef and lamb, onions and tomatoes, warm spices like cinnamon, sweet paprika and allspice, with hints of cumin, nutmeg and coriander? That you could grill, bake or fry? That you could even prep ahead of time and cook when ready?
Let me introduce you to one of my favorite new football snacks of the 2012-2013 season, arayes.
You’ve probably seen arayes on the menu of your local shawarma and falafel joint, but probably never bothered to order them, too distracted by the giant spits of lamb and beef marinating and the dozens of whole roasted chickens take up entire ovens. You’re missing out, they’re possibly one of the greatest snack foods around.
Arayes are made combining ground beef, lamb or combination of both with shredded onions, tomatoes and parsley, and blended with what is called Baharat spice blend, which is a combination of pretty much an entire Middle Eastern spice cabinet. You can buy Baharat blend in specialty stores, but you can just as easily make your own at home. Middle Eastern cooks tend to blend their own, going heavier on the flavors and notes they prefer.
I’ve listed what I use as my Baharat spice mixture, but feel free to adjust to your own preferences. If you leave out cardamom because you don’t keep it on hand, that’s fine. (Hint: If you have cardamom and are not sure what to do with it, I sometimes put a dash or two of it in my coffee grounds or grind a whole cardamom pod or two in with my coffee beans, when making coffee a habit I picked up after using so much cardamom covering the 64 recipes of the 2010 World Cup.)
The key to getting a perfectly crispy on the outside and tender inside is not to put too much filing in your arayes as the meat needs to cook completely before the pita burns. You can use all beef or all lamb in arayes if desired, I just happen to prefer a mix of both for taste and balance.
You can serve arayes with hummus, tzatziki, or my preference, a lemon dill dressing that is just a little bit thicker than tzatziki.
Don’t let the small size of these thin arayes fool you. They’re meaty and rich, getting every last bit of flavor out of the spices against the lamb and the beef. They’re perfect with a porter or black lager on a cold Sunday of football.
Super Bowl Recipe Month: Arayes
You will need:
1 small to medium sized tomato
1/2 medium onion
Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, about a tablespoon or so when minced
1/2 pound ground beef, preferably 15%-20% fat blend
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Baharat spice blend
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pound pita bread
2-3 tablespoons olive oil if baking or grilling, 1/2-1 cup oil if frying
Slice the tomato in half and remove the pulp and seeds. Either shred or mince as fine as possible both the tomato and the onion, gently squeezing out any extra water before putting into a medium mixing bowl. Remove the parsley leaves from their stems and finely mince, then toss into the bowl. Add the ground beef, lamb and spices and gentle mix together until combined without overworking the meat. (I used my pastry blender to chop everything together, it makes for an even distribution of ingredients and the heat from my hands aren’t bothering the meat.)
Once the filling is ready, cut the pita bread into wedges. Put a small amount of the filling into each pita wedge, a couple of teaspoons or so depending on the size of each wedge, and press down firmly. You want a thin even layer in each slice. Repeat until all the meat filling has been used.
If baking, preheat the oven to 375º and brush the arayes with olive oil on both sides. Bake on lined cookie sheets for 20-30 minutes, turning the arayes halfway through for even crispiness. The arayes should be cooked all the way through and the pita has turned golden brown when done.
If grilling, either heat your grill or grill pan to medium heat and brush the arayes with olive oil. Grill until cooked through, about 10 minutes on each side.
And lastly, if frying, heat a small amount of cooking oil in a shallow pan to about 375º and cook until golden, about 7-8 minutes a side. Drain on kitchen towels before serving.
Serve with roasted garlic hummus or the lemon dill dressing listed if desired.
Serves 3-4 as a snack.
If preparing ahead of time, prepare the arayes but do not brush with oil. Tightly wrap with plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until ready to cook, brushing with oil then before baking or grilling.
Lemon Dill Dressing
7-8 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons minced dill
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 – 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.