My 16 year old son Paul spent the past month touring Israel with a large group of teenagers from his summer camp. He had the time of his life, despite the fact that his itinerary had to be revised regularly, in order to stay clear of rocket-fire. The week after Paul landed in Tel Aviv, three missing Israeli youths were found murdered, which ignited a spark between Hamas and Israel. More than 2,000 enemy rockets were fired into Israel during Paul’s visit. Over the course of the month I tried to remain calm but I occasionally lapsed into a state of anxiety about the situation, which was escalating by the day. I couldn’t wait for him to get home. From Paul’s point of view, he felt totally safe. The few times I Face-Timed with him – when he had WIFI – he reassured me that he was fine, and he wanted tell me all about the amazing stuff he was learning, seeing, and eating. It turns out he was eating a lot of shawarma. In fact when I asked him if he bought anything good with his spending money, he said that he’d spent most of it on shawarma. When Paul returned from Israel late Monday night, (after I gave him an enormous hug), we decided we would make shawarma together.
Shawarma is a famous dish throughout the Middle East. It’s typically eaten on the go – street food. It’s quite similar to the Turkish Doner Kebab, and the Greek Gyro. The common denominator is seasoned meat that’s pressed onto a rotating spit and flame-cooked as it turns. The meat is then sliced, wrapped in pita and topped with assorted sauces and salads.
To adapt the recipe for the home cook – who doesn’t have a rotating spit – the first step is to cook up some well-spiced chicken. I love chicken thighs on the grill, so that’s what I decided to use for this dish.
Paul really liked the shawarma I made. When I asked him what he thought, he said “Is-raeli good.” The only problem for Paul was that I didn’t include french fries in my version. Paul said that he always had his shawarma with french fries stuffed into the pita, along with everything else. If you want to stuff some french fries in, I’m sure it will be delicious!
But it’s also great without! (And way lighter!)
One more tip from Paul: Hummus is also a delicious with shawarma!
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 3 small garlic cloves, crushed (2 teaspoons)
- 1½ teaspoons cumin
- 1½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and diced (1½ cups)
- 1 small red onion peeled and diced (1/2 cup)
- 1 ripe tomato, diced (1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- a pinch of salt
- a few grinds of black pepper
- Tahini Sauce
- 7 tablespoons tahini
- 2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ⅓ cup water
- Optional Garnish Sriracha Chili Sauce
- 6 pitas
- Olive oil for warming the pitas
- Marinate the Chicken Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken; toss to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.
- Make the Tahini Sauce Whisk all of the tahini ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
- Make the Cucumber and Tomao Salad Mix all of the salad ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
- Grill The Chicken Heat your grill to medium-high. Cook the chicken for 6 minutes per side or until cooked through. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes and then slice into strips.
- Heat the Pita Bread Just before serving, coat a large cast iron or nonstick skillet with a thin film of oil. Heat over medium-high heat. One by one, lay each pita in the pan and press down on it with a spatula for about 30 seconds per side, adding more oil, if needed. Set warm pitas on a paper-towel-lined plate. Tent with foil. This heats the pita and gives it a great texture for stuffing, so it won't be dry or crumbly.
- Assemble the Shawarma Slice the pitas in half. Open each half and spread some tahini sauce around. Fill with chicken and cucumber salad. Add Sriracha, if you like. Enjoy!