Lamb Shawarma and How to Make Pita Bread

Ah the joys of summer. Ice-cold watermelon, sweet corn on the cob and barbecue. Backyard grilling has been a mighty reward of moving to the suburbs. This and an herb garden that has exploded with the help of a recent summer heatwave has given me plenty of reasons to be grateful. 

Lamb shawarma is a traditional Arabic dish that calls for an amalgamation of marinated meat that is roasted on a spit. The flavorful roasted meat is then shaved and stuffed in a pita bread, topped with yogurt, sometimes cucumber and herbs. For those of you who do not have an oven big enough to fit a hurricane of meat (boo-hoo that means me) the  homemade version is simple.  Meat is marinated overnight in a medley of bold spices, lemon zest and roasted garlic, grilled and then sliced for the pita bread. 

'Shawarma' refers to the pita bread. On this particular day, the thought of going out in the sweltering heat to fetch a stack of flat breads had sapped the energy out of me. And given how quickly pita can be baked, 4-6 minutes in the oven, and that the humid heat outside offered a natural and optimal environment for the bread to rise, I quickly mixed the flour, yeast and water, covered the oiled bowl with a plastic wrap, topped it with a kitchen towel (to keep the sun out) and then left it outside to rise. A wee bit over an hour later, voilĂ ! I had pita bread that was ready to roll into the oven.

Lamb shawarma is a quick and simple recipe perfect for a large picnic gatherings. This recipe calls for 5 pounds of lamb which will easily yield 20 servings, but could be halved for a small family meal that would still leave generous leftovers.

Leg of Lamb Shawarma
From Food and Wine Magazine | June 2012
  • 1 head of garlic, top fourth cut off 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons 
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • Kosher salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper 
  • One 5-pound butterflied leg of lamb 
  • Grilled flatbread, for serving (recipe follows)
  • Plain yogurt mixed with dill, for serving
  • Sliced cucumbers, for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the garlic on a double piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until very soft. 
  2. Squeeze the garlic cloves into a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. 
  3. Lay the lamb on a work surface and make 1/2-inch-deep slits all over the meat. Transfer the lamb to a rimmed baking sheet and spread the spice paste all over, rubbing it into the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
  4. Light a grill. Bring the lamb to room temperature and season with salt and pepper. Grill the lamb fat side down over moderately high heat until charred, about 20 minutes. Turn the lamb and grill for about 20 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 130° for medium meat. Transfer the lamb to a work surface to rest for about 15 minutes. 
  5. Carve the lamb into thin slices and serve it with grilled flatbread, dilled yogurt and sliced cucumbers. 
Pita Bread 
From The Fresh Loaf
Makes 8 pitas
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar or honey 
  • 1 packet yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast) 
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature 
  • 2 tablespoons oil or butter 
  1. If you are using active dry yeast, follow the instructions on the packet to active it (see the note on yeast above). Otherwise, mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water. 
  2. Once all of the ingredients form a ball, place the ball on a work surface, such as a cutting board, and knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes. I used an electric mixer at low speed for 10 minutes. This step facilitates the desirable chewy texture of the flat bread. 
  3. When you are done kneading the dough, place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Form a ball out of the dough and roll it around in the bowl so that it has a light coat of oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside in a dark warm spot to rise until it has doubled in size. This step should take approximately 90 minutes. 
  4. When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it'll be easier to shape. 
  5. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating the oven. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas. 
  6. After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before trying again. 
  7. Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. They should be baked through and puffy after 3 minutes. If you want your pitas to be crispy and brown you can bake them for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, but it isn't necessary. I prefer my pitas on the crisper side, so I bake for roughly 5-6 minutes total. Once they are done allow each pita to cool separately and enjoy. 


Denise @ Creative Kitchen said...

You make it look so easy! I've made tortillas, pasta and English muffins but have never tried my hand at pita bread.


Claudia said...

We're looking for a new leg of lamb recipe for the summer - I think I found it! I have never made my own pita - and you just made it so accessible! (And delicious - but the blog is always delicious.)

Emily said...

your homemade pita bread looks delicious! i bet it tastes amazing fresh and hot.

Nisrine said...

It is soo cool that you make your own pita. It turned out fab as did the shawarma.

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

I had no idea it was this easy to make pita bread! I've got to give it a try!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

It was hot here this past weekend too! Your lamb shawarma look delicious and I have to try making pita bread again. It's been a while!

Megan said...

It all looks so good, but that pita bread especially is calling out to me. I can imagine a number of different fillings for it!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

We are big lamb fans and I love the idea of a picnic with this.

About Last Weekend said...

That pita bred looks so delish. My kids have taken pita bread sandwiches with hummousto school all their lives, they like it better than sandwiches.

Barbara said...

I've never made pita either! Now I can't wait to try it...simpler than I thought. I miss grilling! Living in a condo has its limitations...but I could get this flavorful marinade together and take it to a grilling pot luck. I love lamb and eat it frequently.
(so enjoy your son's photos on Facebook. He's growing so fast!)

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

As shawarma restaurants abound here I have never made this - but I must have a go at pita explained it so well.

Sook said...

Wow, Christine, I love Pita Bread! I can't wait to try your recipe.