Chicken Shawarma’s Gonna’ Get You

Ten points if you got that song reference and thank you Frank, for getting that version of the classic song stuck in my head whenever I make this recipe.

This might be it, folks.  This just might be the favorite recipe in our house.  Every time I make it, people ask for the recipe.  Every time I make it, Jamie says, “You know, I really don’t love Shawarma, but this is amazing!” and he then proceeds to eat fourths or fifths.  Every time.  When I remind him that this happens every time, he looks at me like I am insane.  Every time.

Anyway, I fell in love with Indian and Middle Eastern food in my childhood thanks to my mother’s cooking and my father’s moving us all over the globe.  Tragically, as adolescence, and then adulthood moved in, I forgot about Shawarma.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that Tony Stark, in the Avengers movie, reminded me of its wonders.  My quest for the perfect recipe began almost as soon as we returned from the theater, but my need for that magical, taste bud-caressing curry flavor couldn’t be sated by the recipes I found online.   I began to play.

What follows is the latest version of an ever-evolving four year Chicken Shawarma research project that will make even professed curry-haters, like those in my home, beg for more.  I always double this recipe with the hopes that I might actually have leftovers enough to make another family meal, but am always denied that pleasure by the hungry masses.

I do this so unconventionally that some might say it’s not even Shawarma, but let them.  Instead of grilling an entire chicken breast, I actually cube my chicken and cook it in the marinade.  The spices infuse the chicken better and I am unwilling to sacrifice a lick of flavor.  I also have switched from a yogurt-based sauce to sour cream, but you can use fat free and it will not change the flavor.  Additionally, I use peanut butter in my sauce instead of tahini because it’s easier to find and stores better.  Andrew told me last night that the “sauce is boss” and he could drink it from a glass.  Daniel actually got busted eating the sauce with a soup spoon.

In the summer I will marinate the chicken for a longer time and grill it in strips on the barbecue because Shawarma is almost a weekly staple here when it’s hot out.  That mixture of seasoning and the fresh tomato and lettuce just screams refreshing during the sweltering months (that’s April or so through October or November in Louisiana).  When you grill, warm the pitas 1 min per side on the grill before filling.

I used wheat pocket bread this last time because the store was out of true pitas, but dinner was still a hit.  So without further ado, I bring you…

Chicken Shawarma

Prep Time: About 30 minutes, plus 30 min-24 hr marinating time      Serves: My 4 if you double the recipe
Ingredients (Marinade)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, or sub garlic powder
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
Additional/optional marinade ingredients
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • salt and black pepper to taste
Sauce Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBSP peanut butter
  • 3 & 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp + salt to taste
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/2 small, peeled cucumber
To serve
  • Pita bread
  • chopped Romaine lettuce
  • chopped tomatoes
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the cubed chicken.  Toss to coat all pieces and marinate for 20 minutes (great) at room temperature or up to 24 hours (greatest) in the refrigerator.
  2. In large skillet on medium high, add the contents of the marinating chicken, cooking and stirring until the chicken juices run clear, about 6 minutes.
  3. Drain the liquid and push the chicken to the sides of the skillet, then add a little olive oil or butter to the center of the skillet.  Turn your heat up and cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes, just long enough to crisp the outside of the meat slightly.  Remove from heat, but keep warm.
  4. In a food processor or blender, combine all of the sauce ingredients, including cucumber and parsley, and puree.
  5. Cut pitas in half and warm for 10 seconds in the microwave, or in a skillet coated with cooking spray.
  6. Fill pitas with meat, lettuce and tomato, then top with sauce.
  7. Hold onto your hat and enjoy!  Your taste buds will thank you.





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