Arayes are delicious meat-stuffed pita breads – they’re one of the most popular street foods in Lebanon. Why? Because, they’re delicious – spiced, flavourful ground beef, stuffed into pita bread and fried to perfection!
Having grown up in the Middle East, I used to see arayes on the menu at a lot of local restaurants. Sometimes it was called something different, “Lebanese sandwich”, “Meat stuffed pita bread”, or “fried pita with meat”. I didn’t try it the first few times I saw it on a menu…it just didn’t sound very exciting to me.
One fateful day, a friend of mine ordered it. I took a bite and I was immediately hooked! The crispy bread contrasts perfectly with the spiced beef filling. I always thought of it as a Middle Eastern hamburger, but it really is so much more than that!
What are arayes
Arayes are a type of Lebanese street food. They are typically made up of a spiced meat mixture inside of fried pita bread pockets. Depending on where you get them they may vary slightly, but there are typically two varieties of arayes – arayes made using ground beef, and arayes made using ground lamb. The ground meat mixture is often referred to as kafta (or kofta, as it is known in most Middle Eastern countries).
The difference between Lebanese arayes and Egyptian hawawshi
Arayes and hawawshi are very similar dishes. However, there is one key difference: the bread. While Lebanese arayes are fried meat-stuffed pitas, Egypt’s hawawshi is made using baladi bread.
That said, the names are often used interchangeably depending on what region you’re in, and regardless of whether the dish is being prepared with pita pockets or baladi bread.
- Ground beef (opt for lean or extra lean)
- Garlic cloves, minced
- White onion, minced
- Parsley, chopped fine
- Ground black pepper
- 7 spice
- Ground coriander
- Ground cumin
- Pomegranate molasses (optional)
- Olive oil
- Pita pockets (or 4-inch round pita bread, cut in half)
How to make Arayes
Begin by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix the beef, minced garlic, onion, and parsley. Once the meat is broken down, add the remaining spices (7-spice, salt, black pepper, coriander, cumin), pomegranate molasses, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Set aside, ideally, in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Stuff one and a half to two tablespoons of the ground beef mixture into each pita pocket, being careful not to overfill them. Lay the stuffed pita pocket on a flat surface, and gently press down to flatten, so that the meat filling comes up to the edges of the pita bread.
Lightly brush the exterior of the stuffed pita pockets with olive oil.
Grill the stuffed pita pockets using a grill pan until each side turns golden-brown, about one minute per side. Take a moment to sear the opening of the pita pocket where the beef is exposed too.
Place your pitas on a baking sheet, and bake for 18-20 minutes (flipping over halfway), until your meat is entirely cooked through. Serve warm, with a smile!
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- It’s better to use lean or extra lean ground beef for this recipe. While medium fat beef is tasty, it will result in the melted fat seeping out of the beef to create soggy sandwiches, and possibly a messy oven too (if you happened to pop them directly on your oven rack). Don’t worry though, the spice mix means you’ll still get plenty of flavor into your meat.
- If baking, it’s generally not recommended to use a baking mat or to place the areyas on parchment paper as the drippings will make your pita bread soggy. Instead, put a grill pan on top of a baking sheet and bake the areyas on the rack, allowing the drippings to be caught below.
- Speaking of the spice mix, it’s easiest and generally most effective to mix the herbs and spices into the ground beef using your hands. Alternatively, you can also use a food processor to achieve a similar result.
- If you have trouble finding 7-Spice, it is sometimes also called Middle Eastern 7-Spice, or Baharat spice mix.
- An alternate method for cooking areyas involves not baking the areyas in the oven. I know a few people who cook their pitas longer on the grill. However, I find that the beef cooks more evenly in the oven. Whichever you choose, make sure your meat is properly cooked!
One of the best things about this popular Middle Eastern street food is that it can be dressed up as little or as much as you’d like! Personally, I keep things very simple at home and make these Lebanese sandwiches by themselves, while serving alongside a small bowl of toum (Lebanese garlic sauce). Here are some more simple suggestions though:
- If garlic sauce isn’t your thing, try some tahini or something even simpler, like yogurt or sour cream.
- A simple side salad adds a fresh aspect to the areyas sandwich.
- I’ve never tried this personally, but a friend of mine likes to dip his in lemon juice. He likes the way it flavours the meat.
Traditionally, areyas doesn’t have a lot of variations. That doesn’t mean however that there isn’t room for easy and delicious changes that you may want to consider.
The simplest change is to mix up the herbs and spices used to flavour the filling. Instead of 7-spice, you can make an impactful change by using something like garam masala or all-spice with ground cinnamon or a touch of nutmeg.
A more substantial change would involve switching out the ground beef to ground chicken or ground turkey. In both these cases, be aware that chicken and turkey have less natural flavour than beef so you may want to compensate with an extra teaspoon of spice, or additional tahini sauce to dip into.
While areyas is sometimes made using beef or lamb kafta, if you really want to try something different, you can use a traditional samosa filling to create something very different but still very tasty!
Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. They can be rewarmed in the oven at a low heat, or quickly in the microwave (though this does ruin the texture of the bread sometimes).
I wouldn’t recommend freezing this recipe as the crispy pita pockets won’t necessarily thaw well.
More Middle Eastern recipes
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Pomegranate molasses can usually be found in your local Middle Eastern store or at larger supermarkets. In case you can’t get a hold of it, here’s a link to order pomegranate molasses online.
And that’s it for today! What did you think of this Middle-Eastern stuffed pita recipe? Have you tried Areyas before? Let me know in the comments below.Print