This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2016.
It's that time of year again. High street cafes are stuffing dry turkey into sarnies and calling them "Christmas sandwiches" and compromising perfectly good salads with "festive" Brussels sprouts and chewy parsnips.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to pretend we like our cheese with a grating of nutmeg or that cranberry sauce goes with everything.
Josh Katz, chef and owner of London's Berber & Q and Shawarma Bar restaurants, as well as all-round master of Middle Eastern cuisine, is here to save us from the onslaught of uninspired festive sandwiches.
Introducing the Christmas kebab: a festive but actually delicious lunch item. (Top tip: also bookmark this recipe for using up turkey leftovers after the big day.)
"People don't really celebrate Christmas in the Middle East, but there's no reason why you can't take ingredients that are around at this time of the year and use them," says Katz.
First things first: the meat.
"Turkey is obviously pretty classic at Christmas and weirdly, for some reason, in Israel, you have lamb shawarma or turkey shawarma. There's not much chicken," says Katz. "So, it fits quite nicely."
He adds: "And turkey will be at its best if you have some leftover on Boxing Day."
Katz has marinated turkey thighs in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, coriander, and onion well ahead of cooking. And like all good shawarma, the secret's in the spice. Twelve ground spices to be exact. In with the thighs goes (deep breath) coriander, cinnamon, cumin, salt, paprika, cayenne, sumac, black pepper, allspice, cardamom, clove, and nutmeg.
While the turkey has finished absorbing the flavours of the Levant and set upon the grill to cook, Katz whips out the here's-some-I-made-earlier pita fillers.
Out comes a pickled cucumber salsa, blackened chili sauce, herb salad, and pickled turnips.
And tahini gravy. Wait, what?
"Tahini is my favourite ingredient and I haven't really found anything that doesn't go with it," says Katz. "It's very versatile. You can add pretty much anything to it and it just seems to take it on."
Katz laughs: "You make tahina sauce by adding boiling water to raw tahini and gravy effectively has the same consistency as boiling water. It's not vastly different. You're just adding flavoured stock to the tahini. It's one of my favourite inventions."
Turkey thighs cooked through, Katz cuts them down to suitably sized pieces for stuffing into the pita.
It's time to layer up.
"There's no particular order that things have to go in," says Katz as he dollops chili sauce and tahini gravy into the soft bread, on top of juicy turkey, tangy cucumber salsa, and crunchy veg. "You just have to make sure that you have a bit of everything all the way done. You don't want to get to the bottom and have no filling."
And the beauty of a pita? It's ready for whatever you want to throw at it.
"I like a little bit of sweetness through it all and although the tahini gravy has some maple syrup in it, I think the pita can take some more," says Katz. "Some leftover caramelised butternut squash or pumpkin would balance the dish really nicely and bulk it out."
And even a Christmas kebab can't escape a helping of cranberry sauce.
"I do love cranberry sauce!" admits Katz. "It isn't Middle Eastern at all and I couldn't say definitively without testing it but I think some cranberry sauce would also work well to add a bit of sweetness."
RECIPE: Turkey Kebab
Perhaps the best thing about Katz's recipe is that you can batch-make the elements this weekend and have turkey kebabs on tap throughout the festive season. Is it lunchtime yet?