We tried this delightful Lebanese-style mushroom shoarma, and it was hands-down the best vegetarian one we ever had! Added bonus: social distancing comes naturally with the amount of garlic in the toum sauce!

Shoarma pita is a favorite of ours. This Middle Eastern sandwich usually ends up in a glorious mess of grilled strips of marinated meat, topped with pickles, garlic or onion sauce, and (raw) vegetables, like tomato, onion, and cabbage or beetroot. If you are not paying attention, you could have sauce escaping through the cracks and rolling down your hands into your sleeves.

Chantal has tried various brands of vegetarian alternatives throughout the years, but the texture of the meat substitutes was often off-putting. The best result for us was marinading Quorn chunks ourselves with some oil and shoarma spice mix and then flash-fry them with some chopped onion and red bell peppers.

This recipe is from Merijn Tol, a Dutch cookbook writer, and culinary editor of various publications. She was drawn to Middle Eastern and North-African cuisines ever since her studies and – together with long time colleague – Nadia Zerouali, had a regular segment on 24Kitchen. Last but not least, Dutch supermarkets carry their range of Middle Eastern ingredients and condiments under the moniker Nadia & Merijn’s Souq. Tol also has a column in our newspaper, Het Parool, and this Mushroom Shoarma recipe was published as part of the Week without Meat that took place early March. Chantal cut it our of the newspaper (very old school, I know, here is a link to the Dutch recipe) and showed it to me.

I made the shoarma from roughly chopped oyster mushrooms and onion, not that shocking. What was spectacular was how well they mixed with my baharat of cumin, turmeric, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, peppers, and rosemary. That same delightful mix was added to loads of finely sliced onions that I sautéed until sweet and spicy.  The mushrooms marinated overnight before they hit a ripping hot pan.

Sounds good, huh? Chantal thought that the mushrooms would be an interesting alternative to Quorn. I was more interested in the Lebanese angle: the baharat spice mixture, the cinnamon and mint semi-dried tomatoes, and, last but not least, the toum, which is an egg-free garlic mayo-like sauce.

Baharat is actually the Arabic word for ‘spices’ and will have different components from region to region. This Lebanese version is a delicious combination of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, white and black peppers, cardamom, and allspice.

Similarly, Toum is the Arabic word for ‘garlic’. This makes sense as it is a bold yet versatile garlic dip kindred to the Provençal aioli. Toum is also an ideal sauce to go with everything grilled or as a sandwich spread. You can even use it as a condiment to give soups and sauces an instant kick. It is vegan and made with just garlic, salt, lemon juice, and vegetable oil (and sometimes also chopped fresh mint), and a little goes a long, long, long way.

As said, it was the best vegetarian shoarma we ever had. The deliciously flavored, firm, and “meaty” mushrooms, sweetish onions, pungent garlic sauce, and fresh mint to liven things up. When preparing the semi-dried tomatoes, I had some doubts of the quantities of cinnamon and dried mint, but they were incredibly tasty, neither flavor was overpowering and a great accompaniment to the mushroom shoarma (and your house will smell amazing too!). Hardly anything to improve, but personally, I like the sautéed onions to be on the verge of getting soft for the extra texture and punch.

The recipe (serves 4)

In view of the still spotty replenishments of the supermarkets, 500g / 17½ oz horse mushrooms (in Dutch ‘akkerchampignon’ or ‘anijschampignon’) were used instead of oyster mushrooms. A good substitution as they also stay quite firm when fried. Also, decent fresh flatbreads were nowhere to be found in my supermarket, so I had to resort to pita pockets from the freezer (oblong ones, which are ideal to fill!) and had to reheat them in a 90°C / 195°F oven for about 7 minutes.

For the Mushroom Shoarma and Baharat

  • 400g / 14oz oyster mushrooms, cut in strips
  • 5 medium onions, diced finely
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 4 cardamom pods, smashed and the black seeds removed
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary, pins removed and finely chopped

For the Toum

  • 1 head of garlic, peeled, halved and germs removed
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 300ml / 1¼ cup sunflower oil

For the Semi-dried tomatoes

  • 6 ripe Pomodoro tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tbsp dried mint
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

To serve:

  • Flatbreads or pitas
  • 1 bunch of mint, leaves only
  • Pickles (I used courgette and red peppers)
  1. For the baharat spices, combine all spices and mix about ¾ of it with the oyster mushrooms, chopped rosemary, a sprinkling of salt, and a good glug of oil. Let them marinate for 8 hours or overnight (although shorter is also possible).
  2. Pre-heat an oven to 100°C / 210°F.
  3. On a baking tray, sprinkle the Pomedori tomatoes with the cinnamon, dried mint, salt, and olive oil.
  4. Dehydrate the tomatoes in the oven for 6 to 8 hours.
  5. For the toum, puree the garlic cloves with the lemon juice and salt into a paste with a stick blender. Add the sunflower oil in a slow, steady stream to get a mayonnaise-like consistency (see NOTE below).
  6. About 20 minutes before preparing the shoarma, start sautéing the onions on medium-low heat with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and the remaining baharat, until soft and sweet.
  7. Pre-heat a frying pan on high heat and flash fry the marinated mushrooms in just a touch of oil (the oil from marinating will release during the cooking) and mix in the sauteed onions.
  8. Take a flatbread or pita bread and arrange with the fresh mint leaves and the mushroom onion shoarma.
  9. Finish with the pickles, 2 or 3 semi-dried tomatoes, and a dollop of toum, and enjoy!

    NOTE: As mentioned in the recipe, when using a stick blender, the toum will have mayonnaise-like consistency. Please note that the wooden mortar and pestle or a food processor will give the toum its original light and – for lack of a better word – fluffy texture.

    In any case, it is key is that you blend/grind the garlic into a smooth paste to release the emulsifying elements from the broken-down cell walls. I used the food processor and ended up with roughly chopped garlic rather than a paste. If so, there is a significant possibility that the toum will split and only resembles a milky liquid (yup, been there…). Therefore, I’d advise to first use a mortar and pestle for the garlic paste and then finish in the food processor. However, if the toum does split, don’t despair as it can easily be brought back together (although it won’t be vegan anymore). Combine an egg white with 60ml / ¼ cup of the broken emulsion in a clean bowl of a food processor and mix until it starts coming together. With the food processor still running, slowly pour in the remaining broken emulsion until the toum turns fluffy.

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