Well, this is shawarma light -- and by the way I mean “light” in a lot of ways. First of all, it is a healthy shawarma recipe, it’s also faster and easier than traditional shawarma. And, well, if you put it in mini pita bread then you can serve these little mini shawarma as an appetizer for your next party.
From the sidewalks of New York to the alleys of downtown Beirut, you can find shawarma across the globe these days, but classic shawarma is something that takes time and skill.
Just to cover our bases, let’s go over the basics, shall we? Shawarma (pronounced “sha-wahr-mah”) is a Middle Eastern street food consisting of long marinated then slowly spit roasted meat (often lamb).
It’s a dish that is seen through the Levantine from Lebanon to Syria but it’s origin dates back to the Ottoman Empire when the precursor to the doner kebab came about.
To make shawarma a meat (often lamb, beef, veal, or chicken) is coated in a vinegar or yogurt-based marinade and left to marinate for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The pieces of meat are then stacked on the spit and slowly roasted.
As you can see, true shawarma can be time-consuming, requiring a long list of spices, and a seriously patient cook. That’s great and all, but I’m embarrassingly short on patience and, surprise, surprise, I don’t have a spit at home.
So roasted meat on a spit may sound like a few other dishes you know because, well, there is a whole family of this type of dish. Like we said above, you have the predecessor of shawarma in Turkey that’s known as doner kebab; over in Greece, you have gyro; and, yes, al pastor in Mexico is related to shawarma too.
Enter this grilled shawarma that can be made at home in a fraction of the time. Full disclosure, this is a different animal from classic shawarma because, well, it’s really hard to mimic the slow cooking broiling effect of that vertical spit. However, this recipe comes close.
The secrets are the yogurt marinade which helps keep things tender, using chicken thighs so that the meat doesn’t dry out, and grilling it so it gets a bit of that flame-licked flavor from the grill.
If you don’t have access to a grill, you can even cook this in a cast iron pan and then finish it under the broiler to give it a little crispiness.
Look, we made these as mini chicken shawarma because we’re really into the idea of serving these as part of a spread of mini bites and tapas at our next gathering. But there’s nothing holding you back from doing what you want with this recipe.
Make it more traditional by serving full portions in a regular sized pita or serve it as a plate meal along with rice, vegetables, and flatbread. Or do as they do in Lebanon serve it with the seriously delicious garlic sauce known as toum (make this at least once!), pickles, and rice or fries.
For an even healthier take, serve it as part of a Middle Eastern inspired grain bowl along with, say, quinoa tabbouleh, hummus, and shredded carrots. Or serve it on top of a salad consisting of radishes, pickled carrots, garbanzo beans, toasted sesame seeds, and shredded cabbage.
We pretty much insist you have a sauce that you smear on the pita when you serve this. That could bed hummus or tahini, it could be that insanely garlicky (but good!) sauce known as toum, the yogurt sauce below, or even zhug!
Want to cook this recipe at a later date? Pin it to your Pinterest account so you can access it when you need some cooking inspiration!
(from about 1 1/2 lemons), divided
plus more to taste
or white pepper
(preferably thighs – can use tenders), fat trimmed off and cut into 1-inch wide strips
or parsley, minced
sliced paper thin
quartered and sliced paper thin
sliced paper thin
Marinate The Chicken: Mix the 3 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt, the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tablespoon), the 4 crushed garlic cloves, the 1 teaspoon kosher salt, the 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander, the 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and the 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or white pepper in a large, nonreactive dish until well combined.
Add the trimmed chicken thighs and turn to coat in the mixture. Set aside to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes; meanwhile, prepare the sauces and garnishes.
The chicken can be marinated up to 24 hours ahead –- cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make The Yogurt Sauce: Combine the 3/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt (plus 2 tablespoons water if using Greek yogurt), the juice from 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons), the 1 tablespoon tahini (optional), the 1 minced garlic clove, the 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley or dill, and the pinch of kosher salt in a small bowl and mix to combine. Taste and season with more salt, as desired.
Grill The Chicken Shawarma: Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high (about 400°F) and rub the grill with a towel dipped in vegetable oil. Remove the chicken from the marinade and let any excess marinade drip off.
Place the chicken on the grill and cook uncovered, turning rarely, until it’s charred and the juices are running clear, about 10 minutes total.
The chicken can also be cooked in a skillet. To do so, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and cook until it’s well browned on both sides and fully cooked, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and let rest a few minutes. (You can also throw it under the broiler for a minute or two at the end if you want to crisp it up a bit.)
Serve The Pita: To serve, thinly slice the chicken thinly across the grain. Meanwhile, heat the pita bread by warming in a low (250°F) oven or briefly microwaving.
Spread a spoonful of either sauce on the pita, add a bit of the thinly sliced chicken, top with any garnishes you’d like, and serve.
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