Take a thick, soft pita. Fill it with spiced meat. Grill it so it's crisp on the outside, succulent on the inside. Sold? Congratulations, you win arayes (or arayis). Recipes for arayes starting popping up in my (Israeli) feeds and inbox with regularity last summer, and The Nosher (and also Einat Admony) just declared them a food trend, so I guess their star is rising. As well it should, because arayes are so easy and so, so good. You do not need Shuk haCarmel for this, you've got it right at hand in your own kitchen. No grill needed.
There's some dispute about the origins of the dish (not like that's ever happened before with Israeli food), but it's clearly Levantine, that is, from the region encompassing northern Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Like many a food trend, this one's been quietly biding its time in the mom repertoire of overlooked communities, as I learned the first time I did a search for this arayes thing. You can find it hanging out in small home-cooking food blogs going back.
How to make arayes (stuffed pita)
There are a few steps to making arayes, but none are labor intensive or time consuming:
- First, you make the spiced meat filling, which is like the making meatballs.
- You then cut the pitas in half and stuff the filling, raw, into each half.
- Next, you sear the pitas on the outside; I use a grill pan on the stovetop. You could also use a panini press and probably an actual grill, though I haven't tried. The meat won't be cooked all the way yet.
- You finish the arayes in the oven, so that the inside cooks through and gets all juicy, while the outside stays crisp. Slice each half-pita in half again to serve.
The hardest part of this recipe, if you live outside of Israel, is finding good pita bread. Pitas deserve to be soft, thick, and chewy. You shall not suffer thin, brittle pita. Here in Los Angeles we have several kosher bakeries that make stellar pita, just like in Israel. New York is also not a problem. Beyond that, get the fluffiest looking ones you can find.
Arayes - Israeli Meat-Stuffed Pita (meat)
- Grill pan
- Food processor (or chop finely by hand)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line a sheet pan.
Make the meat filling:
- Roughly chop the onion and add to the food processor along with the parsley. Process until finely ground, 30 seconds or so. Empty into a mixing bowl, carefully leaving excess liquid in the food processor work bowl.
- To the mixing bowl, add the ground meat. Season with the paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and mix until well combined.
Stuff the pitas:
- Slice each pita in half. With the help of a spoon, stuff eat half with about ¼ cup of meat filling. (The pita should be full, but not overstuffed.)
Pan-grill the pitas:
- Heat up a grill pan over medium-high heat and grill the pita for 2-3 minutes on each side, until just beginning to crisp and showing grill marks. (The meat won't be cooked through, which is perfectly okay.) Place on the prepared sheet pan.
Bake the pitas to finish:
- Bake the pitas for 8-10 minutes on the first side. Turn and bake another 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes. Using a bread knife, slice each pita half in half again (into quarters). Serve with tahini.