Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chicken Shawarma


Shawarma wraps can be quite distinct from restaurant to restaurant and region to region, but for me a great shawarma is marked by the following: a tasty meat, a thin, crusty flatbread, tangy tahini sauce, and most importantly, the pickle accoutrement.  I know that "shawarma" technically refers to the method of cooking the meat, so many an establishment will mislead me when I order a shwarama sandwich and get something totally different than what I expected.  That being said, there are some basic shawarma-ruiners: dry meat, the use of the pita pocket instead of flatbread, use of yogurt sauce instead of tahini, the addition of shredded lettuce, and lack of pickle.  You can't just pass off a falafel sandwich as a good shwarama sandwich by subbing out the falafel for's a completely different beast.  And, please, don't treat shwarama like gyros just because both come from a spit. 

I had serious doubts about whether I could implement these basic guidelines at home, especially since I lack a meat spit (shocking, I know) and a really well-seasoned grill.  I was further thrown into a tizzy when I couldn't find a good Lebanese-style flatbread anywhere, and I refused to settle on a pita more appropriate for gyros or falafel.  I nearly abandoned this mission without the right bread.

Here's the great thing I learned in this process: even if you can't find the perfect ingredients, you can still make a delicious shwarama sandwich at home if you follow some simple guidelines.  As long as you have the right spices, pickles, and a thin flatbread it will be delicious.  If you can't find an authentic Lebanese or Syrian style flatbread, find an alternative product that will grill up to be crusty.  I nearly opted for a large tortilla, but was glad I found something else because I think mass produced tortillas are too waxy and chewy.  I grabbed the only product on the grocery store shelf that looked a bit different, and I loved it - Flatout Flatbread.  It was thin, flexible, and only 100 calories...and it grilled up beautifully.  Crusty flatbread, juicy spiced meat, and a tangy pickle with citrusy tahini a great shwarama will make.

Ingredients for Chicken (makes 4 wraps):
  • 1 1/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fat free greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. ground curry
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp.  allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves

Ingredients for Tahini Sauce:
  • 3 tbsp. tahini paste
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ground ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic

Additional Ingredients:
  • 4 wraps or flatbreads
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 dill pickle, julienned


Marinate the chicken by cutting into strips, coating it in the spices, and tossing it with the onion, yogurt, and lemon juice.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but up to 24 hours.
The tahini sauce can be made quickly in a blender or food processor - just blend the tahini, lemon juice, ground ginger, and garlic cloves until smooth.  The sauce should be runny, so add more lemon juice if needed.
When the chicken is ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the chicken and onions on a lined baking pan for 25 minutes.  When done, cover and allow to rest for ten minutes.  Transfer to a hot grill or grill pan to finish cooking and add some charring.  (You can skip the baking and cook the chicken right on the grill, but I think baking it first helps the keep the chicken tender and the spices from cooking off.)
Assemble the grilled chicken, tahini sauce, tomatoes, and pickles on your flatbread of choice.
Grilling the shwarama once it is wrapped is key for achieving the authentic crusty bite.  After grilling wrap in parchment, cut in half, and serve.


  1. Mmmm...these look and sound delicious. I'm definitely up for trying these. I think there's a recipe for lamb shawarma in one of my Yotam Ottolenghi books (Jerusalem) I think. But, as I said on another blog, I feel more inspired to try things like this that I've seen on blogs than from recipes in cookery books - I guess blogs make things seem more accessible.


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  3. That shawarma looks so enticing! For me, it’s not about the flatbread and pita, but the quality of the meat used that would define this meal’s goodness, regardless if it’s lamb, beef, or chicken. The chicken and other ingredients you used look so fresh and of high quality, so I bet that the shawarma was quite amazing. Thanks for sharing!

    Mae Tyler @ St. Andrew's Poultry

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