Spread the meat filling thinly, so it will cook as the pita crisps. Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post

Around the age of 3, my world was made up of simple words and basic desires. Imagine my confusion when my grandmother, whose hands were usually the architects of culinary wonders, offered me arooset labaneh, or a “bride of labaneh,” for supper one day.

Until then, I had understood that brides were found at weddings and labneh in kitchens; yet here were these disparate worlds suddenly in a sublime culinary union.

In Arabic, the word “aroos” means bride – a symbol of something beautiful and desirable. As I learned early on in life, the culinary world of the Levant draws on this poetic imagery to describe foods. Across Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian towns, a simple rolled-up sandwich made with shrak (a very thin unleavened pita bread) spread with labaneh is lovingly referred to as arooset labaneh, or a “bride of labaneh.” It’s a dish loved for its simplicity as much as its flavor.

Where this naming tradition originated may remain a mystery, but its widespread popularity across the Levant speaks volumes about the dish’s cherished place in our kitchens.

“Arayes” is the plural form of “aroos,” a Levantine delicacy made of pita bread spread with a thin layer of spiced meat and grilled. Also known as arayes lahmeh (brides of meat) or arayes kafta (brides of kafta), these stuffed pitas are cherished not only for their balanced blend of spices, textures and flavors, but also for their ease of preparation.

The filling is usually ground lamb or beef or a combination, mixed with spices and very finely diced – or coarsely shredded – onions and tomatoes. Some choose to add green chiles and parsley as well; others choose garlic or red bell pepper. The point is to make the meat more spreadable, so you can get a thin layer into the bread that will cook by the time the outside has crisped up; the latter happens fairly quickly.


Every family nowadays has their own way of making this dish. Some will add a slice of cheese, others will opt for spicing reminiscent of sujuk (heavy on the garlic, cumin, paprika and fenugreek) instead of the more traditional kafta spices. While nontraditional, there’s also a vegetarian alternative of a mix of vegetables, such as minced potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, red bell pepper and onions.

But if at the end of the day arayes are pitas of beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then shouldn’t anything we choose to please our palates work?

Whatever filling you choose, an equally important decision is the choice of bread, because striking the right balance is key: A pita that is too thin risks scorching before the meat within is fully cooked, while one that is overly thick skews the meat-to-bread ratio. Nowadays, it’s easy to find Middle Eastern pita in grocery stores, in both white and whole-wheat varieties (make sure it’s the Middle Eastern variety; the Greek kind tends to be much thicker and often without a pocket). In a pinch, a thick flour tortilla, folded in half, will also do. If the pitas you find are small, that’s fine, simply use more; and if they are large, you can slice them in half and, after cooking, quarter them.

The beauty of this dish lies not only in the versatility of its myriad possible ingredients, but also in the methods of cooking. Traditionalists might opt for a charcoal grill, but modern conveniences like the panini press have turned arayes into an effortless midweek meal. Brushed with olive oil, the pita needs just a few minutes for the meat to cook and the bread to crisp.

If you don’t have a panini press, you can easily accomplish this in a skillet: Simply brush the pita exterior with olive oil, and press down on it with a wide spatula, until the bread is crisp on each side.

And, of course, the traditional grilling method still works, but also consider indirect heat, so the arayes can crisp and cook without burning.


Once done, arayes are delicious on their own but are commonly served with simple sides such as yogurt, labaneh or creamy hummus, as well as tangy pickles and either sliced vegetables or a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and mint.

The acidity and freshness of the sides cut through the richness of the meat, creating a dish that carries within it not just perfectly balanced flavors, but a history of tradition, communal values, and the undeniable allure of simplicity done right.

Arayes and Cucumber Labneh. Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post

Arayes With Cucumber Labneh

4 servings

40 minutes total time

Arayes, flavorful Arab hamburgers of sorts, are fast and easy to prepare. Pita bread is filled with a thin layer of a seasoned mixture of ground beef, vegetables and aromatics, brushed with oil and then quickly cooked in a pan, an oven or a panini press until crisp and golden. Serve with a cool, creamy labneh, as well as tangy pickles, sliced vegetables or a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and mint for a complete meal.


Make ahead: The prepared meat mixture can be refrigerated up to 1 day in advance of making the arayes; stir before using.

Storage notes: Arayes are best eaten right after cooking. To reheat leftover filled pitas, place them in a hot skillet over medium heat and flip them until crisp and warmed through. Refrigerate the meat and the cucumber labneh separately for up to 1 day. The meat and the labneh may get a bit watery, so stir well both before using.

Where to buy: Labneh can be found in well-stocked supermarkets or Middle Eastern markets.


2 Persian cucumbers, coarsely grated or finely diced

1 cup labneh, homemade or store-bought (see substitutions)


1 small clove garlic, pressed or finely grated

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried mint (may substitute very finely chopped leaves from 3 to 4 fresh sprigs)

Fine salt


1 small tomato (5 ounces), quartered

1 small yellow onion (5 ounces), quartered


1 small green chile, such as jalapeño or Anaheim or serrano, with or without seeds

1 very small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro (optional)

8 ounces lean ground beef (90 percent lean or higher) or lamb or a combination

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)


1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch ground cumin

Four (8-inch) pitas

Make the cucumber labneh: In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, labneh, garlic and mint. Taste and season with salt, as desired (store-bought labneh tends to be less salty than the homemade variety). The mixture should be tangy and salty.

Make the arayes: In a food processor, combine the tomato, onion, chile and parsley and pulse to a coarse paste. (Alternatively, very finely dice everything by hand.) Transfer to a large bowl, add the meat, followed by the oil, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, if using, black pepper and cumin, and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.

Using a sharp knife, cut each pita in half to create two pockets. Divide the meat mixture among the pitas, about 1/4 cup per half, spreading it thinly and evenly inside each half; press to close.


Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 200 degrees. Generously brush both sides of each pita half with olive oil.

Heat a large nonstick or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot. (A drop of water should evaporate on its surface.) Working in batches, place as many pita halves as you can fit in a single layer and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, lightly pressing down with a spatula, until the pita is crisp and brown. (The thin layer of meat cooks quickly.) If the meat starts to release liquid and the bread is getting soggy, simply continue to flip and cook on medium to low heat until the moisture evaporates and bread is crisp again.

Repeat with remaining pitas. Serve the arayes as they are ready, or transfer them to a sheet pan and place them in the oven to stay warm. Serve the cucumber labneh on the side.

Substitutions: No labneh? Use Greek yogurt, adding extra salt and lemon to taste; or opt for hummus.

Variations: Place the stuffed pitas in a panini press and cook on medium-high heat until the meat is fully cooked and the bread has nicely browned and crisped up, about 2 to 5 minutes. To make cleanup easier, you could line the press with aluminum foil before grilling.

To make your own labneh: In a small bowl, stir together 3 cups of plain or Greek yogurt and 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, place on top of another bowl, and scoop the salted yogurt into the lined strainer. Cover with a plate and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Discard any liquid in the bowl, then transfer the labneh to the bowl and whisk to combine. Refrigerate until needed.

Nutritional facts per serving (1 stuffed pita with 1/2 cup labneh, based on 4) | Calories: 400, Carbohydrates: 45 g, Cholesterol: 67 mg, Fat: 14 g, Fiber: 3 g, Protein: 24 g, Saturated fat: 7 g, Sodium: 1,188 mg, Sugar: 7 g

From cookbook author Reem Kassis.

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