A Bite of Le Marais
It’s impossible to shake, like it’s wired into my every nerves, and rejecting whatever highly-caffeinated substance I have been shooting up my veins. It has made it its personal quest to destroy my complexion, and put my blog, my kitchen and my dear dear camera on life-threatening danger. Just know that I’m writing this while floating in a distorted, murky, brain-scrambling derangement. Thoughts are bouncing off the surface of my consciousness like dimming fireflies, twirling and giggling, so close but out of my grasp. “Wait, don’t go. Why so shy?… let’s play…”
I don’t even know when and how I cooked this up. Cooking requires setting my brain on cruise control, trusting that whatever muscle memories in my body would guide itself into completing every task while keeping all my fingers intact, my hair un-burnt, and my camera in one piece. So let me just put this bluntly. I may not know what the hell I’m talking about here.
Like, what is this here? Oh yah… I mean… I vaguely remember that it is an attempt to recreate the shawarma sandwich we had back in Paris on that street called… what’s-its-name? Jason and I have ALWAYS loved middle-eastern food (that just gave me a dose of adrenaline there), and by that I mean those New York Halal trucks parked everywhere, doing noble work serving mysteriously spiced meat in pita or on rice, with the “white sauce” that drips and driiips and driiooooops…… (sorry, dozed off a bit again…). I’m staring at this site wondering if we should open our own place if this food comes out right. We said we always wanted to open a restaurant and this addiction led us on a holy journey to Turkey where we thought was gonna be the equivalent of a meth lab for “Halal food” junkies. But only to find out that, like any other cuisine adapting to a foreign location, the NY “Halal food” had been compromised… I mean, Americanized. They are different. But the spice-mix and enlightenment we bagged on this pilgrimage still allowed me to forge a version of NY Halal food, and dare I say, it was a pretty damn close one. Maybe there’s a story in there somewhere, too…
So it’s only natural that Paris has a whole other set of opinions on how a shawarma sandwich ought to be. Ought to be. OOught too be… Ought to beeeee….. Wait. Major stagnation in brain functions. Has anybody ever stared at a line on a page and mindlessly recite it to themselves in their head repeatedly?
That’s what I have been doing for the past 5 minutes. Until my screen saver brought me back to consciousness.
Literally have to get up (oh my, look what I find in the cabinet) and eat a bag of chips to wake up. So where was I? Right. Parisian shawarma. So, this is a direct evidence why Americans are… larger… than Europeans. I mean look how much vegetables they sneak into this. This is dangerously healthy compared to NY’s abomination of greased up meat smothered on rice with a piece of onion. This is practically a balanced diet. Between the purple cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes and eggplant, I feel inches away from the swimsuit season. Huh, their eggplants are fried? Well, I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna roast it instead. I do this for my heart, and… that I don’t have all those frying oil to spare.
One other thing to mention is that their “hot sauce” is a disgrace to hot sauce. What is that? Red pepper baby lotion? Self-respecting foodies please stand up and use a real hot sauce. I made my own but if need easier, even the um… um… what’s its name… Tabasco! is a more exciting choice.
My hot sauce is oil-based: Put 1 part of red chili, 1 part of dried red chili, few cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, and a pinch of cumin and fennel seeds in a blender with olive oil covering to 1/2 the height of the peppers. Blend until very finely chopped. Set a sauce pot on the stove and cook the mixture until all the moisture has evaporated. Let it sit overnight.
Or, vinegar-based: Put 1 part of red chili, 1 part of dried red chili, 1/2 part of vinegar (1/4 the amount of the chili in total), few cloves of garlic, salt and sugar (1 part salt to 3/4 of sugar), a pinch of cumin powder in a blender. Puree it. Cook the mixture until half the moisture has evaporated.
Let me bring this home so I can pass out.
* Make these little pockets with waxed paper to hold the pita as shown above (folded on 3 sides with an opening on top).
Servings: 3 sandwiches
- 470 g of lamb shoulder meat (make sure there’s a good ratio of fat if using another cut)
- 1 tbsp of olive oil (to moisten the marinade)
- 1 1/2 tsp of paprika
- 2 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of garlic powder
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 tsp of grated onion
- 1 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp of ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp of crushed dried chili
- 3/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of black pepper
- 1 large chicken leg (with thighs) with skin, deboned
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
- 1 tsp of ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp of paprika
- 1/4 tsp of curry powder
- 1 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of black pepper
- 10 tbsp of plain yogurt (non sweetened)
- 7 tbsp of tahini (white sesame paste)
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/4 of purple cabbage shredded
- 1 long eggplant (with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/4 tsp of fennel seeds)
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 1/2 thinly sliced onion
- 2 baby cucumber cut into strips
- 3 pita bread
Dice the lamb in cubes and marinate with all the spice mix. Leave the chicken leg whole and marinate with the spice mix as well. I for one cannot stand long nails, but ladies who are obsessed with finger nails should use a spoon or fork because the turmeric in the spice mix will stain those beautifully bedazzled nails for days to come. Let the meat marinate for at least 2 hours.
Combine all the ingredient in the “white sauce” at least 2 hours before using. The flavors need time to develop. I like to crush my garlic in a mortar, but a micro-plane grater will do the trick as well. Preheat the broiler on high. Slice the eggplant into little disks around 1″ or 3 cm thick. Evenly space them in a baking dish, drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle salt and fennel seeds on top. Roast them until very nicely browned on both sides. Thinly slice the onions and cabbages. Dice the tomatoes. Cut cucumbers into thin strips. Viola! That’s all the prep work! Isn’t that easy…
Now comes the fun part, splatter party!! Yay!! Like I’ve said before, a mitt and a tongs are my favorite +2 to a splatter party. Sometimes if I feel especially thick-skinned, I bring a +3! A splatter screen. *Note to Self: always bring enough buffer to a significant social event like splatter parties to avoid standing helplessly alone in a corner.* So heat up a non-stick pan over medium-high heat with just a few drizzle of oil. Once the pan is heated, put the chicken SKIN SIDE DOWN into the pan, turn the heat to medium, and render out the chicken fat from the skin. Once the chicken skin is browned and crispy, there’s enough chicken fat in the pan to fry those lambs. Turn up the heat to high, turn the chicken over and move it to the side of the pan. Evenly place the lamb cubes in the chicken fat and let them brown up nicely as well. If the chicken is cooked before the lambs get browned, which is likely, take the chicken out of the pan first and let it rest. A good, crispy caramelization is VERY important. The key to beautiful, crusty edges without overcooking the meat is HIGH HEAT, which means splatter is unavoidable. Don’t turn the heat down. Don’t be afraid. Be brave.
So all the meats are nicely caramelized. Remove them from the pan, slice the chicken in strips and let it rejoin the lambs in a bowl. Heat the pita slightly on a pan then slide it into the wax paper wrapper. Use a bread knife (serrated), cut an opening on the side of the pita. The opening should, in my experience, only be 1/4 of the “circumference” (omg… I literally have to Google that. I’m definitely stupider than a 5th grader). Otherwise the pocket will unzip itself and I’ll have a useless pita doing a LOL in my face.
Jason told me he saw the vendor putting 3 layers in, so that’s what I’m gonna do, too. One layer of cabbage/tomato/onion/eggplant. One layer of white sauce. One layer of lamb/chicken. One layer of white sauce. So repeat that 3 times. Then top it off with some real hot sauce. A fork may be needed to eat this ginormous sandwich.