Middle Eastern Origins
Shawarma is favorite street food in Goa and it is one of those international dishes we can’t get enough of no matter where we live. Originally from the Middle East, shawarma was traditionally spit-roasted lamb or mutton. But many people I know either don’t love lamb or don’t often cook with it, so I’ve gone chicken on you. Turkey or even beef would also work beautifully with these spices.
The spices used here will be familiar to most cooks, and you probably have them in your pantry now. The essential spice is the warm, piny, peppery flavors of dried oregano. Paired with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and paprika, this spice combination creates some incredibly heady cooking smells. Chicken shawarma makes a memorable main dish for year-round meals.
This version of shawarma is based on Richa Gupta’s inspirational food blog My Food Story. I find it needs a good amount of pepper to balance the other spices. If you have Aleppo pepper, that would be a perfect choice. And if you are a Korean food lover and have gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) they would also fit the bill. Otherwise, any ground chili will do but know the heat level you are working with so you don’t overdo it. You can always add more pepper after cooking your chicken shawarma. Make sure you are not using the Southwestern chili powder that includes cumin, paprika, garlic powder, etc.
Roast, grill or sauté
Chicken shawarma is perfect summer grilling food, so if you have an outdoor grill, use it. Otherwise, sautéing the chicken on the stovetop works well, or, as I have in the instructions, roast the meat on high heat in the oven. I’ve also included two easy, optional sides to go with your shawarma—a quick onion pickle. Yes, I know there are already onions cooked with the chicken, but a pop of pickled onion adds another flavor dimension to your wraps. My pickle recipe is inspired by Aaron Hutcherson's great food blog The Hungry Hutch. And borrowing from the great J. Kenji-Alt's post on Serious Eats, I have a quick tahini sauce for added richness and tang. Or whip up my 5-minute raita, a cooling yogurt sauce.
Extra for the freezer
What is especially lovely about making chicken shawarma is that you can double or triple the spice mix, tuck it in the freezer, and have a head start on your next shawarma escapade. Or make several batches of the whole recipe and tuck dinner-sized portions in the freezer for that mad end of the day “what I am I going to have for dinner” scramble. It also makes for easy entertaining because you can cook shawarma a day or two in advance, then prepare the other fixings the day of your get together.
I love how versatile the meat is. Think pasta with a sauce of yogurt or ricotta, a big squeeze of lemon, and a shower of fresh herbs. Or shawarma fried rice, a rice bowl with all the vegetables, a big chopped salad with hearty romaine lettuce, or chop it up and make savory hand pies. The possibilities are endless, so . . .
P.S. If you want some other summer cookout ideas, take a look at my Fourth of July recipes.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Chicken Shawarma Wrap
- 2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs
- 1 1/2 cups onion ~ Sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice ~ 1 medium lemon
- 1 tablespoons garlic paste ~ 3 cloves of garlic, see Notes below
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger paste ~ 1-inch piece
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne ~ More or less to taste, see Notes below
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ More if using kosher salt
- 8 flatbread
- pickled red onions ~ Recipe below
- raita ~ Recipe
- tahini sauce ~ Recipe below
- chili flakes
- sliced tomatoes and cucumbers
- lime wedges
Quick Pickled Onions
- 2 cups red onions ~ Sliced
- 1 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ Double if using kosher salt
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup vinegar ~ I like apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 fresh red or green chii pepper ~ Optional
Easy Tahini Sauce
- 9 garlic cloves ~ or 3 tablespoons garlic purée
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice ~ 2 to 3 lemons
- 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 cup tahini
- cold water
- salt to taste
- Gather your ingredients.
- Mix together all the marinade ingredients except the chicken and onions.
- An optional step is to cut the chicken thighs in half, so they cook faster and the marinade penetrates better. If you leave them whole it will take another 10 minutes to cook through. Add the chicken and onions to the marinade and set aside for 30 minutes, up to 23 hours.
- Turn the oven on to 425°F (220°C) and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the chicken pieces and the onions on the baking sheet. If you divide the chicken in two batches it browns a bit better, but you can simply roast them altogether on one pan.
- Roast for 10 minutes and then turn the chicken over. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes until it is cooked through. If you want to brown the meat more, broil for 3 to 5 minutes. You can also grill or sauté the chicken in a large frying pan on the stovetop.
Quick Pickled Onions
- Mix all the ingredients except the onions together and stir to until the sugar dissolves. Add the onions and allow to sit for an hour. Keep in the refrigerator until needed.
Easy Tahini Sauce
- In a blender, process the lemon juice and garlic by pulsing about 15 times. This will not be a smooth purée. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain out the pulp and discard. If you are using garlic purée, simply mix it with the lemon juice.
- Add the cumin and tahini paste and mix well. Add water a tablespoon at a time and mix together. Like chocolate, the paste will seize up. Keep the faith and keep mixing in water until you have a light smooth sauce.
- Taste for seasonings and add salt and more lemon juice to taste. You will have about 3/4 cup of tahini sauce. Double the recipe if you would like to use it for something else because it will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week. Think roasted veggies, cold chicken, noodles, rice, salads, and more.
- I typically have fresh ginger and garlic paste in the freezer. If you don’t have the prepared ingredient, either grate or finely mince the amount needed.
- Use the red chili you prefer. Aleppo pepper or gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) would work well. Otherwise, any ground chili will do, but know the heat level you are working with and don’t overdo it. You can always add more pepper after cooking your chicken shawarma. And make sure you are not using the Southwestern chili powder that includes cumin, paprika, garlic powder, etc.