Arayes (Lebanese Crispy Meat-Stuffed Pita)

published Jun 17, 2024
Arayes Recipe (Lebanese Crispy Meat-Stuffed Pita)

Stuffing a pita with an even layer of spiced beef or lamb before browning it in a pan or grill makes the whole thing crisp and juicy.

Serves4

Makes8

Prep20 minutes

Cook15 minutes to 30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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head on shot of five arayes stacked on top of each other, on a small white plate
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

I know summer cookouts are often dominated by juicy cheeseburgers and snappy hot dogs. And they’re delicious! But you know what’s better? Arayes. This Lebanese street food has all the hallmarks of a classic summer meat-bread combo, with a few key improvements. I have been making these for years, and ordering them for even longer, because they are simply a perfect food.

First, the juicy and flavorful ground lamb or beef (your choice!) is full of spices and aromatics. The filling is then spread in an even layer inside pita bread so you cook the meat and bread together. This means the pita gets perfectly crispy and toasty on the outside, while steaming the filling. It also soaks up all that flavor, so the whole thing is portable and each bite is perfection. 

I’ve had arayes that are whisper-thin with a very slim layer of filling and I’ve had extremely thick ones, seared on the sides, wider than any burger patty I’ve ever eaten. According to my friend who is a Lebanese chef, traditionally arayes are spread thin (think: more quesadilla, less hamburger). If you can, seek out Middle Eastern pita, rather than Greek; they will be thinner with a more pronounced pocket that gets the crispiest.

These taste delicious cooked in a pan inside, but even better on the grill. I like to make the filling a day ahead and store it in the fridge. The next day I fill the pita, throw them on the grill for a few minutes, then let everyone dig in.

Why You’ll Love It

  • They’re full of flavor. A blend of spices, aromatics, and a kiss of pomegranate molasses means the filling is bursting with flavor.
  • It’s like a burger, but better! Stuffing a pita with an even layer of filling before browning it in a pan or grill makes the whole thing crisp and juicy.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Key Ingredients in Arayes

  • Ground meat: Lamb is a popular protein in Middle Eastern food, but ground beef is equally delicious — so take your pick, or use a blend of both.
  • Spices: A blend of Baharat spice, cumin, allspice, and cayenne pepper adds a ton of flavor and a delicious aroma.
  • Aromatics: Parsley, onion, and garlic make the filling extra flavorful, similar to kofta skewers.
  • Tomato paste: Adds a rich depth of flavor and boost of umami.
  • Pomegranate molasses: While optional, pomegranate molasses adds a delicious burst of tartness and balanced sweet flavor.
  • Pita: Look for pocketed pita that’s on the thinner side for evenly cooked arayes.
  • Tahini: Stirring tahini into the garlicky yogurt dipping sauce gives it body and a rich, nutty flavor. I like Beirut Tahini, Seed + Mill, and Soom Premium Tahini.

How to Make Arayes

  1. Make the filling. In the bowl of a food processor, combine onion, parsley, garlic, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, baharat spice, cumin, allspice, cayenne, and salt. Pulse until the mixture forms a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and add ground beef or lamb, then mix until evenly combined.
  2. Assemble the arayes. Halve the pita and fill with the spiced meat mixture. Spread the filling evenly inside the pita, making sure it goes all the way to the edges. If the pitas are too stiff, you can wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave until warm and pliable.
  3. Cook the arayes. Brush the arayes with olive oil and cook on a cast iron skillet or grill pan, turning halfway through, until the outside is well-toasted and the filling is cooked through.
  4. Make the dipping sauce. While the arayes cook, combine Greek yogurt, tahini, garlic, and lemon to make a sauce for serving. Top with a sprinkle of lemony sumac.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Helpful Swaps 

  • Add cilantro and mint to the filling mixture for a boost of freshness.
  • Swap out ground beef or lamb for any ground protein, like chicken, turkey, or a plant-based ground mixture.
  • Add pine nuts or coarsely chopped pistachios to the filling.
  • Cook the arayes outside on a gas or charcoal grill.

What to Serve with Arayes

Arayes Recipe (Lebanese Crispy Meat-Stuffed Pita)

Stuffing a pita with an even layer of spiced beef or lamb before browning it in a pan or grill makes the whole thing crisp and juicy.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes 8

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the filling and assembly:

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 6 sprigs

    fresh parsely

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon

    pomegranate molasses (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon

    baharat spice

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground allspice

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (optional)

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef or ground lamb

  • 4

    pocketed pita breads

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

For the tahini yogurt sauce:

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1/2 cup

    plain Greek yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons

    tahini

  • 2 tablespoons

    water, plus more as needed

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Sumac, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment as you complete it: Coarsely chop 1/2 medium yellow onion (about 1 cup). Coarsely chop 6 fresh parsley sprigs (about 1/3 cup). Add 3 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses if desired, 1 tablespoon baharat spice, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper if desired.

  2. Pulse until the onions are coarsely chopped, about 10 (1-second) pulses. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add 1 pound lean ground beef or ground lamb. Using your hands or a flexible spatula, mix until evenly combined; do not overmix.

  3. If your pitas are very stiff, stack and wrap 4 pocketed pitas in a damp paper towel and microwave until just slightly warmed and pliable, about 30 seconds. Cut each pita in half to create half moons. Divide the filling evenly between the pita pockets (about 1/4 cup per pita half) and spread to create an even layer.

  4. Heat a large cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush 2 tablespoons olive oil over the outsides of all of the pita (both sides). Working in batches, place in the pan and cook until the outside of the arayes are browned and crisp, and the filling is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Reduce the heat as needed if the pitas are browning too quickly before the filling is cooked. Transfer to a platter and cover to keep warm while you cook the remaining arayes. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

  5. Finely grate 1 garlic clove into a small bowl. Juice 1 medium lemon into the same bowl until you have 2 tablespoons. Add 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoon tahini, and 2 tablespoons water. Stir to combine. Thin out with more water a tablespoon at a time as needed until the consistency is smooth and creamy. Taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Garnish with sumac, if using. Serve the arayes with the sauce for dipping.

Recipe Notes

Grilling: You can cook these on an outdoor grill uncovered over medium, direct heat (350ºF to 375ºF) for the same amount of time.

Make ahead: The filling can be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 day ahead.

Storage: Leftover arayes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Refrigerate the dip in a separate airtight container. To reheat, bake in a 400ºF oven until heated through, about 5 minutes if refrigerated or 12 minutes if frozen.