You don't need meat to enjoy schwarma in a pita. (Emanuelle Lee)
Pita bread is often stuffed with spiced, shaved shwarma meat or crunchy, deep-fried falafel. But my version of a pita sandwich is a hearty vegetarian alternative to a meat-stuffed pita, inspired by the anything-but-ordinary stuffed pita sandwiches of Miznon from iconic Israeli chef Eyal Shani.
Eggplant is a common ingredient in Israeli and Middle Eastern cooking. After all, it is meaty, delicious, versatile and can cook up quickly — ideal for weeknight meals. I serve these sandwiches with spicy pickled cabbage, just like they do at the shwarma shops, along with yogurt and chopped parsley for some bright freshness.
Note: You can make each element of the pitas a day ahead and stuff the pitas when you’re ready to enjoy (reheat the eggplants for a minute in the microwave before serving).
Heat a large frying pan and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the eggplant slices to the pan. Make sure each piece is touching the surface of the pan; you may need to work in batches. Once the bottom sides have softened and become golden, turn them over. Add a little more oil if necessary. Press down on the slices with a spatula or wooden spoon to help them cook through. Transfer the eggplant onto a paper towel to remove the excess oil.
To make the parsley salad, combine the chopped parsley with the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Combine the sliced cabbage with the lemon juice, sea salt, chili flakes and olive oil; mix well. Set aside so it softens and pickles.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan that you used for the eggplants and add the garlic. Once it becomes slightly golden and aromatic, add the tomato paste and mix to soften it. Add a pinch of sea salt, the honey, shwarma spice and chili powder. Add 1/2 cup water and mix until you have a silky consistency.
Add the cooked eggplant slices back into the sauce, coating them on all sides. Leave each piece to slightly caramelize, turning them over once the bottoms are slightly sticky and browning, about 2 minutes on each side.
To serve, warm the pitas in the microwave for 30 seconds or in the oven for three minutes. Cut the tops off the pitas (don’t discard them!) and stuff each one with some cabbage, 2 1/2 eggplant steaks, a few spoons of yogurt and finally the parsley salad. Enjoy the extra pickled cabbage, yogurt and parsley salad with the leftover pita tops. Serves 2.
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