I can buy neither pork nor beef for love or money. At least, not where I live in North London – our little corner of Islington is solely the preserve of halal butchers. I’ve had to adapt and find ways to make slightly ropey corner shop lamb taste good and fill five ravenous stomachs on a minimal budget.
I’ve got a lot of love for the heavily spiced lamb shawarmas that constitute a lot of Middle Eastern and North African street food. The spice serves to compliment the flavours of the meat without masking them, giving a more well-rounded and softer flavour that begs for a powerful relish or dressing – I like to stick with the theme with a medium-hot pomegranate, lime and red onion relish.
I adore the smell that drifts up from the pan and fills the house as the meat cooks. I’d say it’s the smell of the souks, but actually the souks mainly smell of goatshit so maybe not.
Possibly my favourite thing about these wraps is the flat bread I pick up from our corner shop for £1.20. It’s slightly sweeter than English loaves and crisps beautifully if that’s what you’re after. It also soaks up the juices from the meat and relish, meaning that it’s not just a token carbohydrate.
Lebanese-style Lamb Wrap
For the lamb:
- Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- One white onion, roughly chopped
- Lamb mince, about 150g per person
- One bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped
- Chilli powder
- Salt and pepper
For the relish:
- One red onion, halved and sliced
- One clove garlic, very finely chopped or pulped
- Olive oil
- Lime juice
- One green birds-eye chilli, de-seeded
- Coriander, chopped
- Half a pomegranate
- Salt and pepper
- A little cider vinegar or something similar
- Khobez flat breads.
Get the relish going first by combining the red onion, chilli, garlic and the lime juice. The acidity of the lime serves to soften the red onion’s flavour so it’s not completely overwhelming. After ten minutes or so, add a big glug of olive oil, the seeds and juice from half a pomegranate, vinegar and tabasco to taste. Season with salt, pepper and the coriander.
For the meat, gently fry the chopped white onion, garlic and chilli. When the onions are just starting to colour, brown off the mince. It’s best to keep it slow and gentle to maintain depth of flavour and a good texture, but if you’re in a hurry this bit can be done quickly. Allspice is pretty much the main flavouring in this dish but you have to be careful in adding it not to overwhelm the meat, so just do a light dusting at a time and keep tasting. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep tasting your food, particularly when it’s something with such strong flavours. Balance the allspice, chilli powder, nutmeg and salt & pepper to your liking and fry until parts of the mince are crispy.
Combine the mince and the relish in a brown khobez flatbread (or just a tortilla) and munch with beer. I’m yet to find a wine that stands up to spice like a cold lager.