But until she can get there, she’ll make this Lamb Pita with Tahini Sauce and Zhug recipe – it’s as close as you’ll get to the real thing without hopping a flight to Israel, which she highly recommends, should you get the chance. For the most authentic version, buy the softest pita you can find and seek out a tahini from Israel or Lebanon, which you can often find in Mediterranean markets.
Lamb Pita with Tahini Sauce and Zhug Recipe
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 5 garlic cloves divided
- Sea salt
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice divided
- 5 jalapeños or other spicy peppers, halved and seeded (if desired)
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds toasted and ground, divided
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coriander seeds toasted and ground, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds toasted and ground, divided
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves and stems about 2 1/2 cups, divided
- 1/2 bunch Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves about 1 cup
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 whole wheat pita
- 1 Persian cucumber trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes halved
- Make The Tahini Sauce: Add the tahini paste to a bowl. Place 1 garlic clove on a cutting board and pour about 1/2 teaspoon of the salt on top. Using the side of a chef’s knife, smash the garlic and grind it with the salt until it turns into a paste.Add the garlic-salt paste to the tahini, along with 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, and about 1/4 cup of water. Stir together with a fork until the tahini sauce is blended and becomes the consistency of honey. Add more water, if needed. Taste for lemon and salt and adjust, as desired.
- Make The Zhug: Combine the jalapeños, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 2 garlic cloves, half of the ground cumin seeds, 1/4 of the coriander seeds, 2/3 of the ground cardamom seeds, 2 cups of the cilantro, the parsley, the black pepper, the lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of the freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender.Pulse several times, until all the ingredients are blended but the sauce is not puréed. Set aside until ready to use.
- Make The Pita: Finely chop the remaining cilantro then add to a large bowl with the ground lamb, the remaining garlic cloves, the mint, the remaining coriander seeds, the remaining cumin, the remaining cardamom, the red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon of the sea salt. Using your hands, gently incorporate the herbs and spices into the lamb. Divide the lamb mixture into 12 equal portions and roll each portion into a meatball.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Brush the bottom of the pan with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil and then add the lamb meatballs to the hot skillet, being sure not to crowd the pan. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook the meatballs in two batches.) Brown the meatballs on each side, turning them as they get a dark golden crust on the outside, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Remove the meatballs to a plate and keep warm.
- To build the pita, place two heaping tablespoons of tahini sauce in the bottom of the pita. Add three meatballs to the pita and then tuck cucumber slices and tomato halves into the side of the pita. Top with additional tahini sauce, if desired, and a little bit of zhug or a lot of zhug, depending on how spicy you like it.