Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

Food & Wine

Grill up a pocket sandwich

Photo courtesy of Blanche Shaheen
Watch a video tutorial on this recipe here.

The silhouette of a bride and groom, locked in a tender embrace, is undeniably romantic. The feminine white billowy dress pressed against the sharper lines of the dark and masculine tuxedo is captured in photo albums around the world. And there’s no better way to commemorate this embrace than with a – sandwich.

Ara’yes, “bride and groom” in Arabic, is the name of this special sandwich – the warm, ground meat “embraced” by the pita bread shows the colors black and white. The filling isn’t just any ground meat, but kofta. The word derives from the Persian “k?fta,” which means to beat or grind. Kofta elevates hamburger meat to a completely different level of flavor. Kofta simply describes ground meat combined with onions, herbs and spices. In Middle Eastern countries from Lebanon to Iran and in between, kofta is molded into cigar shapes and grilled like kebabs. In Morocco, kofta might be prepared in a tagine. In India and Pakistan, it is cooked in a spicy curry. In Turkey, there are approximately 291 ways to prepare kofta, including patties and meatballs.

This mainstay of many Middle Eastern restaurants is surprisingly easy to make. Although breadcrumbs are not used with kofta traditionally, they can make leaner grass-fed, free-range meats more tender. The sprightly blend of fresh parsley and onions is a nice aromatic counterpoint to the hearty meat.

Because of the bride/groom theme, Ara’yes would be great for a bridal shower or engagement party. But you can dress down this sandwich for casual fare as well.

I pack them in my children’s lunches by cutting them into triangles, heating them up and putting them in a thermos.

Ara’yes also make ideal campfire sandwiches. You can prepare them in advance and cook them over the fire or grill until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Use ground lamb, turkey, chicken or beef for kofta. The juice of the meat flavors the bread so that no condiments are necessary. If you must, a garlicky tzatziki sauce or hummus makes a nice dipping accompaniment.

Blanche Shaheen is a food blogger and journalist who lives in Los Altos. She’s writing a Middle Eastern cookbook that shares heirloom recipes, cooking tips and family stories. For more recipes, visit feastinthemiddleeast.com.




• 1 pound hamburger (ground lamb, beef, chicken or turkey)

• 1/3 bunch parsley

• 1 clove garlic

• 1/2 small onion

• 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

• Salt to taste

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

• 1 teaspoon allspice

• 1 package pita bread, white or wheat, each cut in half

• Olive oil for brushing


Whirl garlic, parsley and onion in food processor. By hand, gently incorporate vegetable mix with ground meat, breadcrumbs, salt, lemon pepper and allspice.

Cut each pita in half and open up each pocket so that it’s ready for filling.

Take golf-ball size of meat mixure and use hands to flatten meat to approximately 1/4-inch thick. Shape meat to fit inside pita pockets. When finished with entire batch, brush both sides of pitas with olive oil.

Broil in oven for 4 minutes, turn over and broil or grill another 4 minutes. You want pita bread to be nice and brown on outside and meat cooked through.

Cut into triangles if desired.

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