Wednesday, April 23, 2008


When most people come to Hawaii they want “local” food, but if you come and visit you should try some Greek food or “Mostly Greek, Not So Fast Food” as it is stated at one of my favorite places to eat The Olive Tree Café in the Kahala area of Honolulu. Long before I moved to Hawaii, when I would travel here for work, this little place was where I would ask my hosts to take me for dinner whenever given a choice. (It got me a reputation as a pretty cheap date as the food is relatively inexpensive but oh it is GOOD!) The Olive Tree Café is a simple but always crowded little place, BYOB with a small “glass” fee; where you order at the counter, jockey for a table and go pick up and pay for your food when they call your name over the speaker—cash only. Because it gets so crowded every night, it can be a trick to find parking and maneuver for a table which you do by staking out a few feet of territory, patrol it staring down (politely) anyone who looks like they are eyeing “your” tables while hovering over the diners already seated, praying that they will finish and get out so you can sit down. Because I have little patience for this and it is on my way home for work, I typically call in my order to go, park illegally at the nearby post office, dash in to get my food and head for the safety of my own home.

If I am eating with a group we get some pupu’s—the hummus is killer; garlicky, spicy and complex with grilled pita (order extra pita as you’ll need it), the mussels ceviche marinated in lime juice and spices, the giant beans in tomato sauce-yum! What keeps me coming back several times a month however is their version of Shaorma—a wonderfully spiced patty of ground lamb served in a pita with cucumber, tomato and sesame-tahini dressing; served with a salad topped with the best Greek-feta dressing ever. It is so good I order it about 98% of the time to the exclusion of everything else on the menu. If I do order something besides shaorma, like the delicious lamb shank special, I usually end up slightly regretful, thinking the whole time of my beloved shaorma. Theirs is not traditional, as sharoma is usually a middle eastern style sandwich with shaved lamb, goat or chicken but trust me it hits the spot. (Here is my last take-out container of the Olive Tree's Shaorma--excuse it's appearance, it should be prettier but I dropped it on the way in to my house!)

My friend Natalie, who is a very talented cook, loves the shaorma too and got it in her head to try and recreate it at home quickly and simply, using a falafel mix after noticing the similarities in the spices and flavor. After hearing her idea I had to try it too. Now ground lamb is very hard to find here. Safeway used to carry it and then stopped (maybe I was the only one buying it?) Natalie used ground turkey and since I had a pound of ground buffalo that I needed to use I made my first attempt out of that and my second attempt a few days later out of ground turkey breast. It is not exactly like my beloved Olive Tree Shaorma but it is quick, tasty and a great way to stretch a pound of ground meat. (See the pictures below from my first attempt the other night with the buffalo--I got six good sized patties)

Quick & Easy Shaorma
1/2 box or about 5 ounces Falafel Mix (I generally use Cashbah or Fantastic Foods. Save the other 1/2 of the falafel spice for another time)
1 lb ground meet of your choice
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic,
1/4 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it spicy)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
olive or canola oil for frying patties
Following package instructions, combine 1/2 of package falafel mix with 1/2 the water on package directions and let mixture sit for about 15 minutes to set and form a paste. Meanwhile finely dice onion and crush garlic gloves. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, except oil and mix together well so everything is combined. (I find much like meatloaf, using your hands to mix is easier and more effective). Form patties in the size and shape desired out of the mixture. (If you are planning to put it in a pita, an oblong patty works best. I usually just eat mine with salad and/or rice, so I either make small or larger rounds). Heat a large pan over medium heat. When hot, add oil and cook patties until browned on both sides and cooked within. Usually 3-5 minutes per side--dependent on size of patty. Serve warm, in pitas with humus or tahini sauce, lettuce. tomato, etc. or eat with salad and rice, serving humus/tahini on the side.
Although most of the seasonings are in the falafel mix, I find extra cayenne and cumin give it a flavor boost. You can play with the spice quantities or add different spices based on your preferences.

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