I have been having a long, passionate love affair with pita bread since I can remember. I remember as a teenager how I would beg my mom to buy the doughy circles which, back then, weren’t that easy to come by, and how I would toast them before splitting them open and shoving anything and everything inside the steaming pocket. For a quick lunch, I would dollop in hummus and slices of fresh tomato with loads of salt and pepper but it was only when I started dating C that I really discovered their true beauty.
You see, when C and I first started dating, he was living in Johannesburg and I was (and still am) in Pretoria. The two cities aren’t far apart but for a high school student and a young guy without a car, it was pretty impossible to see each other. We would beg siblings and friends to drive us around, giving them little bits of money for petrol as we could, just pining to be together. It was all very romantic and very dramatic, as young love often is. On the weekends that I made my way to Joburg, I felt incredibly grown up and sophisticated. Visiting my older (by not much) boyfriend in a different city felt so very fancy to me and especially as all his friends were a few years older than us, we would go to parties and dinners and for a 17 year old very desperate to be seen as an adult, this was heaven. We would often go to a place called “The Schwarma co.” in Norwood. Now the people of Joburg have all heard, and all love, this gem of a place but for me, it was new and it was wonderful. The smell of garlic and tahini and roasting meat infiltrate your senses the moment you step through the door. The moment I spotted those warm, golden pita breads, I was sold. I asked them to stuff it with lamb, eggplant, hummus, onion and tzatziki, eager to take my first bite. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was everything I thought it would and solidified my love of pita forever. However, now when I go there I ask for everything to be stuffed into a flatbread instead but still, the love of pita is there.
So over December, C and I had a serious craving for shwarmas but as we were in a small coastal town on holiday, there was no chance of us just popping to the shops to pick up a few so I decided to make my own. Kind of. Of course the meat wouldn’t be done the same way but I could produce all the same flavours and so I did. Since then, we’ve had shwarmas (or my version of it) at least 4 times. This weekend the craving struck again. I had some left-over shoulder of lamb in the oven that I had roasted the day before and this I just jazzed up a little by frying it off with garlic and spices in a really hot pan. This gave me all the flavours of proper shwarma I wanted without any of the fuss. Chicken works equally well and I imagine so would a bit of brisket, if you were so inclined. The beauty of shwarma, or any wrap/pita really, is that you can do with it what you want. The flavours and combinations are completely up to you. This is why it is such an incredibly way to entertain. I put out bowls of tzatziki and hummus, a dish of simply fried eggplant, another of simple chopped salad, warm pitas and the shredded meat and everyone just helps themselves. It is absolutely effortless but so memorable and jovial and let’s face it, that’s all we can ask a meal to be.
for the lamb
- 3-4 cups shredded cooked lamb
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- juice of 1 lemon
- salt & pepper to taste
for the fried eggplant
- 1 large eggplant sliced into 1/2cm slices
- 1 cup vegetable oil for frying
- salt to taste
for the pitas
- 4 pita breads warmed
- shredded lettuce
- chopped salad
- Heat a large frying pan over high heat then add a splash of olive oil.
- Add the garlic and spices and fry for 30 seconds then add the lamb and allow to fry until the lamb starts to crisp on the edges.
- To cook the eggplant, heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the slices of aubergine until golden brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and allow to dry on kitchen paper before seasoning with salt.
- To make the pitas, slice the warmed pitas in halve and add the hummus, tzatziki, shredded lettuce and chopped salad. Top with the fried eggplant and shredded lamb and serve immediately.