The older I get, the more I love Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. As a long-time low carber I spend most of my time cooking for myself instead of eating in fast food restaurants or buying processed foods. I am finding that more of my meals have a easy low carb Mediterranean flavor. Whether you’re making a meal at home or sitting at a favorite restaurant, think about the incredible smells of the foods being prepared. Except for a couple of the side dishes like pita bread, rice and couscous, most Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods are low carb, relatively easy to prepare and delicious. As you adopt Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods into your low carb diet, you will just need to eliminate some of these unnecessary side dishes.
For years we’ve heard about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet – fresh ingredients including a variety of non-starchy vegetables, the use of healthy oils and various delicious meats and seafood raised without hormones and allowed to age naturally. Although we probably know a little less about Middle Eastern foods and culture many of their favorite dishes are very similar to Mediterranean dishes. I like to think there are more similarities than differences in the two types of foods – especially since very similar dishes can be found in both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants.
Many of the differences between the two types of food involve geography. If you think about traditional Mediterranean countries like Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and Italy, these are countries that are usually bordered by seas or oceans. In general, Middle Eastern traditionally meant Lebanon, Israel, Yemen, Egypt, and other countries that may have some exposure to water borders but are mostly know as land-locked. The differences in climate and proximity to water, often determines the types of foods prepared in each region.
Similarly, both cultures make dishes that use easy low carb meats like beef, chicken and lamb (although Mediterranean countries will use pork and seafood while Middle Eastern cuisine do not include pork or seafood for religious reasons). Some commonly used ingredients include olives, olive oil, and sesame seeds as well as spices like garlic, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Many of the same vegetables can be found in both cultures such as eggplant, squash, tomatoes, onions, okra, cucumbers, and leafy greens.
Another similarity in both styles of cooking involves the use of pita bread and beans (fava beans and chickpeas). Although there are a few manufacturers of low carb pita breads in the United States where the carb counts are low enough to be considered low carb, I do not eat them because I live wheat-free, and we will not use them in the preparation of this meal. (If you must have a low carb pita bread, I suggest the 7 net carb Toufayan Bakeries Low Carb Pita Bread.) One of the largest growing segments of the legume category has been chickpeas especially when ground with sesame seeds and used as the now popular and traditionally made hummus. Even though hummus can be used for someone in their later stage of their easy low carb lifestyle or someone who is following a Paleo diet, we will not include it here to keep our carb count lower.
Shawarma is not a well-know term in the US and neither is Doner Kebab which is the Turkish equivalent of Shawarma. But, I am sure we have all heard the Greek word Gyro (correctly pronounced yee-ro) which is what we are making today. Low Carb Shawarma is lamb, chicken, beef, turkey, veal, or mixed meats placed on a rotating, vertical spit (like you’d see in restaurants) and grilled for as long as a day. Thin shavings of the meat are cut off the block and served on a plate with accompaniments, or as a sandwich or wrap using warm pita bread. Whether you call it Shawarma, Doner Kebab, or Gyro, this dish is now a fast-food staple worldwide. And it’s easy low carb.
Since most of us do not have vertical spits in our home, we will use a frying pan for cooking.
- 1 large tomato diced
- ½ medium onion diced
- 1 cucumber - peeled, seeded and diced
- Mix all items together in a bowl, cover and refrigerator until time to serve.
- 8 oz full fat plain yogurt or full fat Greek yogurt
- 1 small cucumber - peeled, seeded and diced
- ½ teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon tarragon
- ½ teaspoon mint
- ½ teaspoon chopped fresh dill
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ lemon, juiced
- salt and pepper to taste
- Mix all ingredients well, chill for 30 minutes prior to serving.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3-5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or boneless leg of lamb
- Mix garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, nutmeg, salt, black pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice in a large re-sealable plastic bag or large re-sealable plastic container.
- Cut lamb into ¼ inch strips of varying lengths. Do not trim fat it will add to the flavor during cooking.
- Add lamb to container and work into marinade coating all pieces.
- Let sit 4 - 8 hours or overnight in refrigerator.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Lay strips of the meat in the pan, and cook until the lamb is no longer pink, and is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Flip frequently as the meat cooks.
- Take generous portions of cooked lamb, condiment, and yogurt dip and serve. If you are looking to add more vegetables to the meal, serve with a side salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
If you enjoy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods and will be eating them on a regular basis, it may be worth taking some time and premixing you spice mixes. You can purchase empty spice bottles and label them yourself, or put the mixes in small, re-sealable bags.