Take it from Anissa Helou, who spent more than three years researching recipes from the countries of the Middle East: This lamb shawarma sandwich from her cookbook Feast: Food of the Islamic World is easy and good. Really damn good. Shawarma is normally roasted on a big spit, but this adaptation is made in a skillet. If you can’t find lamb shoulder at your local butcher, use boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
Lamb Shawarma Sandwich
1 pound boneless lamb shoulder (or boneless, skinless chicken thighs), thinly sliced
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon Lebanese 7-Spice Mixture
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Sea salt and finely ground black pepper
½ cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced to a fine paste
Three 8-inch round pita breads
4 to 6 small firm-ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and cut into very thin wedges
4 to 6 gherkins, thinly sliced lengthwise
Handful of mint leaves
A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
1. Make the Lamb: Put the meat in a large bowl and add the onions, olive oil, lemon juice, allspice, cinnamon, Lebanese 7-Spice Mixture and thyme leaves; season with salt and pepper. Mix well and let marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, Make the Tahini Sauce: Put the tahini in a bowl. Alternating between the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons water, gradually whisk in the liquids—this is to make sure that you get the right balance of tartness while keeping the consistency of the sauce like that of creamy yogurt. The tahini will first thicken to a puree-like consistency before starting to loosen up again. If you decide to use less lemon juice, make up for the loss of liquid by adding a little more water or vice versa. Add the garlic and salt to taste. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
3. When the meat is ready, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the meat and sauté until cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes.
4. Make the Sandwiches: Tear open the pitas at the seam to split them into separate disks. Divide the lamb, tomato, onion, gherkins, mint leaves and parsley between the disks; drizzle with tahini sauce. Roll up each sandwich tightly and wrap the bottom half with a paper napkin.