Portobello Shawarma: A Postcard From Veggiestan

British restaurateur Sally Butcher, despite her surname, wrote a wonderful vegetarian cookbook called “Veggiestan“. She and her Iranian husband have a Persian deli in southeast London called Persepolis. I found her cookbook in Singapore and also grabbed her Snackistan cookbook, because they are both great.

Veggiestan cover
Buy this cookbook from Amazon

She writes her recipes the way I think them, informally and chatty, with full expectation that you are a cook who doesn’t need a helmet. I like that.

Her recipes reflect her immersion in Middle Eastern cuisines. Lots of information about ingredients and dishes you may not already know and foreign vocabulary to keep you in the know. No fussy or persnickety instructions. And she is funny. It’s like having a wild cousin in the kitchen as you cook.

Better Baba Than Yia-yia’s

Her recipe for baba ghanouj garnered this judgment from Bill: “It’s better than my Yia-yia’s.” Better than his Greek grandmother’s baba ghanouj?? High praise indeed, since, as we all know, his Yia-yia cooked by the very light of her own halo…

One of my favorite recipes from Veggiestan is this vegetarian shawarma recipe. What is shawarma? Basically, roasted meat in a pita with sauce and salad. It’s like a souvlaki sandwich, without the skewer and with a different sauce. Only this is a vegetarian version. Whole hog vegan, even.

The marinade is remarkable: it really makes the chunks of Portobello mushroom taste meaty. Especially for those who simply want to cut down on their meat consumption, this is a great recipe. (I tried it out on eggplant, but it was not very successful — stick to Portobello mushrooms.) The method here is not verbatim from her book, but my abbreviated version.

The basic ingredients: Portobello mushrooms, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, smoked paprika, ground cumin, chili powder, crushed coriander seeds
The basic ingredients: Portobello mushrooms, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, crushed coriander seeds

Sally Butcher’s Veggie Shawarma

  • 4 Portobello mushrooms, wiped
  • 2.5T soy sauce
  • 2T sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2t ground cumin
  • 1/2t crushed coriander seeds
  • 1/2t paprika (smoked pimenton is best)
  • 1/2t chili powder
Thoom, a garlic-parsley sauce
Thoom, a garlic-parsley sauce

For the garlic sauce (“thoom”):

  • 1 whole bulb of garlic
  • a big handful of chopped parsley
  • 1T lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4c / 200ml olive oil
  1. Cut the mushrooms into chunky strips.
  2. Whisk the marinade ingredients together and swish the mushrooms around in it. Marinate for up to 2 hours. (Overnight is too long — don’t do it.)

    mushrooms marinating
    Mushrooms marinating in the lively marinade
  3. Throw all the thoom sauce ingredients except the oil into a blender and blend well. Slowly trickle in the olive oil. It should thicken up into an emulsion like a mayonnaise. Pour it into a bowl or creamer and refrigerate.
  4. Heat up a frying pan or griddle to the sizzle point, and then spoon in the marinated mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes, till soft.

    grilling the marinated mushrooms
    Grilling the marinated mushrooms
  5. Serve in warm pitas, top with thoom sauce and salad-y stuff of your choice (cucumber, onion, shredded lettuce, herbs, pickled stuff…)

Variations on a Thoom

The thoom is seriously garlicky. If you’d like to tone down the garlic, you could use tzaziki instead, or a tahini-lemon sauce. Some feta cheese on top would also go well and would add some protein.

Vegan shwarma sandwich
Vegan shwarma sandwich

The marinade works also on whole Portobello caps, if you want something for a veggie burger. Amazing stuff.

Get the book by clicking on the image below. Give it to all your veggiestani friends, too — in the hardcover — it’s beautifully bound. You’ll be rewarded when they invite you over next time.

Veggiestan cover
Buy this book on Amazon!
Snackistan book cover
You’ll like this one, too!