You've probably spent extravagantly on a kitchen appliance that you thought you would love forever — used it once, then stuffed it away, never mind the guilt.
This almost happened to Alain Cohen, chef-owner of Got Kosher? Café on Pico Boulevard. Cohen spent a couple of grand on a schwarma-maker to please a client who demanded a schwarma station at a wedding that he was catering.
Then the machine sat around, useless, until a new idea popped into his head: schwarma made with the mix for merguez sausage. And, voilà, schwar-guez was born. That French word voilà isn't a misfit. Born in Tunisia and raised in Paris, Cohen drew on what he learned in both places to create the dish.
“There was a lot of schwarma activity on the boulevard [Pico],” Cohen recalls, “but I didn't want to do schwarma like everybody else. I hate copying.”
Tinkering in the kitchen, he spiced ground beef with harissa, garlic, cumin and coriander, the Tunisian seasonings that he uses for merguez. But the taste was “too simple,” he says. “I felt some color would help.” And so he put in parsley and cilantro.
With the formula perfected, he had to devise a presentation. This he based on the way schwarma is served in the student quarter of Paris. Cafes there slice the meat onto burrito-sized pita bread, add onions and yogurt, roll up the pita and serve it with French fries.
Only Cohen couldn't get pita that large. And he couldn't add yogurt, because it's not kosher to combine meat and dairy.
His solution was to present schwar-guez as an open-faced sandwich on a smaller pita. Instead of yogurt, he spoons on Middle Eastern toum, a creamy mixture of garlic, lemon and olive oil. Then he sprinkles on chopped onion, tomato and parsley.
Now the schwarma spit is busy day and night, producing one batch of schwar-guez for lunch and another for dinner. Like the Parisian schwarma cafes, Cohen accompanies schwar-guez with french fries. Unlike those cafes, he provides an accompaniment that is totally American: coleslaw. With non-dairy dressing, of course.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at TableConversation.com, EatMx.com, @foodandwinegal and Facebook. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.