Araies Lahma: the Middle Eastern pita pizza

Edible Cleveland photo editor Laura Watilo Blake is spending the COVID-19 lockdown revisiting global destinations through recipes she’s picked up on her travels. In this post, she shares a recipe for Araies Lahma, a hot oven-baked appetizer made with a mixture of ground lamb, garlic, tomatoes, and onion. 

Ever since I watched Indiana Jones ride a horse through a narrow slot canyon and find himself at the base of a towering Hellenistic monument carved from sandstone rock, I wanted to visit the ruins of Petra in Jordan. Finally seeing the rock city in person was an incredible experience, but it was only the icing on the cake.

Petra's Treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

Petra’s Treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

The entire archaeological zone spreads a vast distance through mountains and desert with hand-carved cave tombs scattered throughout. Even with a two-day ticket, we barely saw everything. Each afternoon, we stumbled back to the hotel to shower off the red dust and rest up for dinner.

One evening, we signed up to help cook the meal at the Petra Kitchen, run by a local entrepreneur named Eid Nawafleh. Participants from around the world were divided among various stations with ingredients for eight dishes, including:

  • shourbat freekeh (green wheat soup)
  • baba ghanouj (eggplant dip)
  • bagdonesiah (parsley salad)
  • fattoush (cucumber and tomato salad)
  • salatat khyar (cucumber and yoghurt with mint)
  • galaya bandura (hot tomato sauce)
  • musakhan (roasted chicken in shiraq bread)
  • and last, but not least, araies lahma (bedouin pizza).

My husband, Chris, and I were assigned to make the latter—a pita stuffed with meat, veggies, and spices that can also be a satisfying meal when served with a salad. While there are recipes online that offer from-scratch recipes for the “pizza” dough, the pita version cut down our preparation time significantly.

araies lahma, also known as bedouin pizza, is a tasty appetizer made by stuffing pita with a meat mixture

At the Petra Kitchen, guests help make Jordanian specialties, including araies lahma, also known as bedouin pizza.

When all was said and done, we had enough to food to feed an army, and so did all the other participants. We all sat down to enjoy a delicious meal together, but there was no way we could finish everything we had prepared. Luckily, none of the leftovers go to waste because Petra Kitchen donates the rest of the food to families in the community that need it.

Once all the ingredients for araies lahma are combined, the meat mixture is stuffed into a pita, which is then dipped in locally produced olive oil and baked in the oven.

Once all the ingredients for araies lahma are combined, the meat mixture is stuffed into a pita, which is dipped in locally produced olive oil and baked in the oven.

The charitable angle was even more poignant given the coincidence with Eid al-Adha, which means “Feast of Sacrifice.” The Muslim holiday—held at the end of the Hajj—commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice one of his sons as an act of obedience to God. He didn’t have to do it in the end because God intervened and gave him a sacrificial lamb instead.

All over the Muslim world, those that can afford it sacrifice their best domesticated animals, whether sheep, camel, cow, or goat on the Sunday of the Eid holiday. It is estimated that nearly 100 million animals are slaughtered. No one, not even the poor, goes hungry since a third of what is prepared is shared with extended family and another third goes to the needy.

In 2020, Eid al-Adha will begin on the evening of Thursday, July 30, and culminate with a feast on Sunday, August 2. However, you don’t have to wait to help those in need. Our own communities are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank has been on the front lines distributing a week’s worth of groceries to regular customers, not to mention many new families who have lost work during the extended lockdown. If you can help, make a donation here.

Serves 8

  • 1 pound ground meat (lamb, beef, mutton, or goat)
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 diced green chili pepper with seed removed
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 pieces of pita bread sliced in half
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 45 seconds, then dunk into a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife, slit the sides of the skin and slide it off.
3. Dice tomatoes, onion, chili pepper and garlic.
4. Mix meat with chopped tomatoes and onion in a blender or food processor.
5. Add salt, diced chili, minced garlic and cumin to ground meat and mix well.
6. Cut each round of pita bread in half. Stuff each pocket with a thin layer of the meat mixture.
7. Brush both sides of pita with olive oil and arrange on a sheet pan.
8. Bake for 7 minutes. Turn the pieces, then continue bake 5 minutes more.
9. Serve hot from oven.

Araies Lahma is just one of a dozen dishes a visitor can participate in preparing at the Petra Kitchen. The staff of the Petra Kitchen under manager Ali and chef Mustafe have created a participatory dinner that introduces guests to the top tastes of Jordanian cuisine. Couple this with its location at the very epicenter of ancient human achievement, and dining in Petra becomes a bonding experience with the ancestors.