So I’m a huge fan of Middle Eastern food: kofta, falafels, shish taouk, the list goes on and on. I mean, how can you not like it? Pillowly pita bread, wide varieties of highly seasoned meat, baba ganoush, hummus – all delicious. (And yes I had to look up the spelling for the majority of those words).
I also love gyros although that’s more towards the Mediterranean side of things, but gyros are variations on shawarma and doner kebabs and no matter what they’re called I think they’re tasty. One of our favorite restaurants to bring people to/meet people at is Taz in Mason because, barring being a vegetarian (although there’s still super delicious meatless fare), everyone we’ve ever brought has enjoyed it. How can you go wrong with meat, bread, sauce, and some veggies to make you feel better about what you’re eating?
But since I try to cook healthy to counteract the times I treat myself while eating out, I wanted to do my take on it at home. I also happened to have some whole wheat pocketless pitas in the freezer (saw them at Findley Market and couldn’t resist picking them up because where else do you find whole wheat pocketless ones?) and I wanted to use them. And I really, really, wanted to play with my new, completely awesome, immersion blender. I just got married two months ago and it was a wedding gift – I squealed when I got it, I really did. Apparently I’m easily excited.
I think from start to finish the whole dinner took me about 45 minutes, and that was with making the sauce, meat, side, and warming the pitas. It was nice because it felt like an indulgence and I could be happy knowing that it was on the healthy side. So here it is; Spicy Turkey Pitas with Toum (Lebanese Garlic Sauce) and Squash Fries.
Spicy Turkey Pitas with Toum and Baked Squash Fries. Serves 4.
**A note on Toum – this stuff is potent and extremely delicious (if you’re a garlic fanatic like me, I routinely double the amount of garlic a recipe calls for). If you’re not as into garlic as I am only use 2 cloves. If you hate garlic – don’t even bother to make it, just use nonfat greek yogurt instead.
Toum (this makes a lot, like 14 servings):
- 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, chopped (how much do you like garlic?)
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup oil (2 parts grapeseed or canola to 1 part olive oil) – I just used a half cup measuring cup and filled it two thirds of the way with grapeseed oil then topped it off with the olive oil, it doesn’t have to be exact. If you don’t want it to be as thick, you can use up to ¾ cup of oil.
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- ½ tablespoon low fat or fat free mayo (not necessary, I just do it as a precautionary measure and to guard against the emulsion breaking – there’s nothing more disheartening then when it breaks and you were really looking forward to it)
- Use an immersion blender (this is super important! I’ve made toum before using a blender or a food processor (the blender works better than the food processor) but it’s never worked as well for me as when I used my new nifty immersion blender). I’ve also heard of toum being made in a mortar and pestle and I have no idea how some people get that to work. Stick with the stick.
- Using the immersion blender, pulse garlic with salt until it’s finely minced.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients. Make sure it’s touching the bottom of the cup to begin with, keep blending, moving and angling the stick until its whipped up until a fluffy, mayo-like consistency (this actually only took about a minute of blending for me).
I was literally amazed by what the stick blender produced. It was perfect – super thick and almost creamy. Love, love, love it. I know a lot of other authentic recipes don’t use an egg white or mayo but I’ve made runny toum, green toum (too much olive oil used), etc and I take every precaution to avoid that.
Spicy Turkey Pitas (cook the meatballs while the fries are baking):
- 12 oz (.75 lb) lean ground turkey
- 1 egg white
- ½ cup of whole wheat panko bread crumbs (I use Ian’s brand that I get at Whole Foods)
- ¼ cup of minced red onion (I used a mini chopper to do this)
- 3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
- 1 ½ teaspoons of cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoon of marjoram (could sub oregano but that’s a stronger flavor)
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- ½ – 1 teaspoon of harissa or to taste, it depends on how spicy you like it. If you don’t have harissa you can either approximate your own version or just throw in some ½ teaspoon of cayenne
- ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons of grapeseed or olive oil.
- Tomato sliced in half moon shape
- Lettuce leaves
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
- 4 whole wheat pitas
- Combine everything from turkey through black pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Form into 16 meatballs. Don’t worry about them being perfect balls, since this is a “wetter” mix, just try to make them all about the same size.
- Heat oil over medium high heat. Cook meatballs until browned on each side, turning every so often. I think I ended up cooking mine around 8 – 9 minutes.
- Trick – I used the blunt end of two short bamboo skewers to turn meatballs in the pan. This way I run less of a risk of breaking the ball. Then when they were fully cooked and firm and I was moving them to a plate I just skewered it with the sharp end to pick it up.
- Warm whole wheat pitas. I like to do two at a time in a dry skillet over low heat, turning every minutes or so until soft and pliable. This is also a great method from frozen, I don’t defrost it or anything.
- Mix 2 tablespoon of toum with 1 tablespoon of nonfat greek yogurt. Spread evenly between the four pitas. (In my picture the sauce is on the top not the bottom because I forgot about the toum until I had already built the pitas – oops). Is the nonfat greek yogurt completely necessary? No, but the toum is pretty high in fat, it’s healthy fat, but still fat. Plus if you are putting it on top of the filling the yogurt thins it out a bit and makes it easier to drizzle.
- Lay down some lettuce, then place four meatballs down the center. Place tomato slices on each side. (At this point I also threw some hot sauce on mine but I like food a little hotter). Fold pita in half, over the filling.
I apologize for the quality of the image here, I was hungry and it looked and smelled so good that I got impatient so the picture ended up a bit blurry.
Squash “Fries” (you can set these up after prepping the turkey but before cooking the meatballs, that way you can have them baking while you cook the turkey):
• 2 eggs whites
• 1/4 cup skim milk
• 2 teaspoons of harissa
• 1 zucchini, cut in half length-wise, each half cut in eighths length-wise, then each eighth cut in half width-wise
• 1 yellow squash, cut in half length-wise, each half cut in eighths length-wise, then each eighth cut in half width-wise
• 1 ½ teaspoons of Italian seasoning
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• ½ teaspoon cumin
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon pepper
• ¾ – 1 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
• Alternatively: If you happen to have some za’atar laying around, just use 3 – 4 teaspoons of that for an entirely different flavor.
• Preheat oven to 450.
• Combine egg whites, milk, and harissa in a small bowl, beating until combined.
• Cut zucchini and squash (you could use 2 squash or 2 zucchini, I just wanted it to be colorful). Split each in half lengthwise so you have two parts. Cut each part into 4 pieces, length-wise. Then cut each of those four pieces in half width-wise until you get a “fry” shape.
• Place breadcrumbs in a shallow dish (I like to use a pie pan). Combine all seasonings (Italian through pepper). Sprinkle half of total spices in breadcrumbs, and half in liquid mix. Combine each one well so the spices are incorporated throughout.
• Set up a baking sheet, cover with foil, and spray with non-stick spray.
• Place “fries” in liquid mix and toss thoroughly until each individual fry is well coated. Then working 2 – 3 at a time, coat each one lightly in the seasoned panko. You don’t want it a thick coating. Place on baking sheet. When they’re all on the sheet, spray the tops lightly with oil spray.
• Bake for 7 minutes at 450. Flip each fry. Bake for another 5 – 6 minutes until the outside in crispy and the squash is cooked through.
• Divide evenly among 4 plates which means each serving should have 8 fries. If you’d like, serve 1 tablespoon of toum mixed with 2 tablespoons of nonfat greek yogurt in a side bowl to dip the fries in. If you wanted this spicier, you could even mix harissa or a different hot sauce in with the toum/yogurt mix.
Notice in my picture that I didn’t cut my pieces in half. I definitely should have and will next time. I think it would have been easier to eat, more fry-like, and as a bonus would have made it seem like you were getting a bigger portion.
The husband loved this meal and made quick work of it. I also enjoyed it and wanted to finish it but it was just way too much food for me (I eat small portions but I eat more often). Not that he ever complains because that means he just gets to finish my plate
On a side note – this seems like the longest post ever but I swear, about 45 minutes and the whole thing is done.