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Wraps Sans Pita

About 10 years ago, we went crazy for wrap sandwiches. And then we quickly got sick of them.

Mostly, this was because of the bread — we were using the only readily available flatbread, pita. It has that pocket that is so convenient for sticking in falafel or shish kebab, but pita is basically a soft, crumbly bread, and we insisted on throwing in moist fillings like tuna salad.

So to keep the sandwich from falling apart, we started ignoring the pocket and rolling up the filling in the unopened pita. Now it was a stodgy, bready sort of sandwich. On top of that, pita is baked just a wee bit underdone to keep it soft. (For this reason, in the Middle East, it’s often toasted a little before serving.)

The solution is just to use a more appropriate bread, one that’s thinner (less doughy) and stronger (not so fall-y apart-y). Any Middle Eastern market stocks the right kind under the name lavash or marquq. Get the bread right, and you can wrap right.

After all, they’ve been doing this sort of thing in the Middle East for a couple of thousand years. At a banquet given by the ancient king of Persia, you’d be served a sort of canape called bazmaward, which was essentially a wrap cut into jellyroll-type slices.

There are bazmaward recipes from the 10th and 13th centuries in which the typical filling is some kind of roast meat mixed with toasted nuts, fresh herbs and perhaps pickled lemons and other condiments. This is an excellent concept, and it works either as a canape or a wrap sandwich. The following recipe also shows a trick or two that can be useful in other dishes.

Yogurt cheese is pretty familiar now; you can make it by stirring up unflavored yogurt and leaving it in a piece of cloth for a couple of hours so the whey drains out. In a pinch, you can substitute cream cheese, but if you’re going to a Middle Eastern market anyway, you might just pick some up in the dairy case, where it will be called lebne. You could use yogurt without draining it, but it will make the sandwich a little soggy.

Yogurt makes an excellent marinade, particularly for chicken. Lactic acid has more tenderizing power than either vinegar or lemon juice.

You could use store-bought toasted almonds, though they won’t have such a bright flavor as fresh-toasted. Don’t try toasting sliced almonds, by the way — they take too long.


Makes 2 wrap sandwiches or about 12 canapes.

1 boneless chicken breast
½ cup unsweetened, unflavored yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
⅔ cup slivered almonds, whole pine nuts or a mixture
2 sheets fresh lavash bread
⅔ cup yogurt cheese (lebne)
1 bunch fresh basil, minced
1 bunch fresh mint, minced
  1. Slice the breast horizontally to make it into two thinner pieces.
  2. Mix the yogurt and garlic and rub it all over the meat. Place the meat in a bowl or plastic zip bag and marinate in the refrigerator 2 hours to overnight.
  3. Put the nuts in a large, heavy pan and toast over medium heat, stirring and turning everything over with a spatula, until golden brown. Transfer the nuts to a plate to stop cooking.
  4. Remove the meat from the marinade, wipe it dry and fry or grill it.
  5. Unroll the lavash bread and trim the pieces with a sharp knife to make neat rectangles. They will be about 7 inches wide. Smear the yogurt cheese thinly over the bread, then sprinkle the surface with nuts and minced basil and mint.
  6. Cut the chicken breast into 2 pieces about 1 inch wide and as long as the width of the bread. (You can assemble a couple of pieces if you can’t get neat single pieces.) Arrange the meat 2 inches from one of the narrow ends of the lavash. (Extra bits of chicken that were trimmed can be fitted into the sandwiches or saved for some other purpose.) Sprinkle with salt to taste.
  7. Roll up, starting at the end with the chicken. Serve as sandwiches or cut into jellyroll slices about 1 inch wide.

Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.

Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock 'n' roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times' award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.