Vegetarian Döner Kebab

Guten Tag, Freunde! If you checked out my recap post about our trip to Germany, you may remember that my favorite food that I had there was less German than it was Turkish. The Turkish döner kebab has become an integral part of German culture, and is one of the most popular forms of street food in the country. A spicier version of a gyro, this stuffed and filling Mediterranean sandwich is a quick and easy dinner for any busy weeknight!

Many döner contain meat, and that meat is often a combination of beef and lamb. Like many Mediterranean meats, this is cooked on a vertical spit and shaved off into your sandwich. You get a nice, crunchy outside that gives way to a tender and juicy inside when you roast the meat this way. However, most of us don’t have a vertical spit handy at home. Most of the döner recipes that I looked up online suggested replicating this by adding spices to your ground raw meat of choice, baking it in a loaf tin to cook it, and then slicing the loaf and roasting the pieces for a few minutes under the broiler to get a crunchy, slightly charred exterior.

I, however, decided to forego the meat entirely in this recipe, as my husband is currently vegetarian. I didn’t want to add to my workload by making two separate dinners, and Mediterranean food is so easy to make vegetarian anyways. Instead of the beef and lamb, I opted for some nice spiced falafel balls. What’s more, I cheated and used store-bought falafel because I was going for optimum ease factor here, people. While I usually champion trying to make as many things from scratch as possible, as the great Ina Garten famously and memably said, “store bought is fine.”

For those unaware, falafel is made of ground chickpeas, similar to hummus. The difference is that these don’t have a thinning agent like tahini added, and they are fried after being formed into balls, which gives them a nice fluffy texture inside a crisp shell. They go great with the cooling yogurt sauce that I’ve made with this recipe, which adds some balancing creaminess to the relative dryness of the falafel. The yogurt sauce also balances the heat that comes from the chili sauce, which for the purpose of ease is simply sriracha (again, we’re going for low effort. I’m already asking you to find pita bread, which according to my local Kroger is damn near impossible). It all comes together with the refreshing crunch of fresh veggies to make a light, yet completely filling meal. Trust me, no sides required, though I do recommend plenty of forks and napkins for spillage. Remember this dish originated as a messy late-night street food, and I am in no way responsible for any falafel balls that end up on the floor!

I hope when you make this, you think not only of what it must be like to walk the streets of Berlin late at night, drunk and craving something spicy; but also how cool it is that an immigrant food has made such a large impact on the culture of the host country. Much like tacos in America, döner has made its way into the hearts and stomachs of many Germans – and now, hopefully, into your kitchen as well. Until next time, happy eating!

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Vegetarian Döner Kebab
This recipe for Turkish-born German street food makes for a filling dinner that is light on meat and heavy on veggies.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
kebabs
Ingredients
For the herbed yogurt sauce
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 2 tsp dried dill (can substitute fresh, adjust amount according to taste)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
For assembly
  • 4 pita bread rounds
  • 1 package frozen falafel balls (about 16 needed)
  • 1 tomato (sliced into strips)
  • 1/2 white onion (sliced)
  • 1 cucumber (sliced into rounds, then halve the rounds into half moon shapes)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • sriracha (to taste)
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
kebabs
Ingredients
For the herbed yogurt sauce
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 2 tsp dried dill (can substitute fresh, adjust amount according to taste)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
For assembly
  • 4 pita bread rounds
  • 1 package frozen falafel balls (about 16 needed)
  • 1 tomato (sliced into strips)
  • 1/2 white onion (sliced)
  • 1 cucumber (sliced into rounds, then halve the rounds into half moon shapes)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • sriracha (to taste)
Instructions
Herbed yogurt sauce
  1. Start with the sauce, and allow it to sit in the fridge while you prepare the other ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt with the garlic and herbs, and stir well to incorporate. Taste and add more herbs as needed. When you're happy with it, add the lemon juice and stir vigorously to thin it out. You don't want it very runny, but just enough to classify it as a "sauce" instead of just yogurt. Cover the bowl and let rest in the fridge to allow the flavors to marinate together.
Assembling the döner
  1. Slice all of your veggies and prepare them on a serving plate so it's easy to assemble your finished product. Prepare the falafel balls according to package directions (this usually takes about 15 minutes).
  2. Toast your pita rounds in the oven at 400°F for about 3 minutes. You don't want them to be brittle, just warm and a little crisp at the edges. When all of the components are ready, start by spreading some yogurt sauce on the pita round. Top with sriracha, veggies and falafel. Gently fold the pita like a taco to make it more of a "sandwich." Dress the top with more of either sauce as desired, and enjoy!
Recipe Notes
  • Definitely have a napkin and utensil ready, as this can get messy!
  • Feel free to add your veggies of choice. I would also love this with some zucchini, green peppers, and onions roasted or fried in a little garlic oil.
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