Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Cooking Light

spicy chicken shawarma recipe

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 marinade

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.

cucumber tomato salad for shawarma

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.

grilled chicken

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!

israeli chicken shawarma recipe

But it’s also great without! (And way lighter!)

chicken shawarma wrap

One more tip from Paul: Hummus is also a delicious with shawarma!

Recipe type: Main Course
Cuisine: Israeli
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
A home-cooked version of the delectable Middle Eastern street food: Chicken Shawarma
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Marinade
  • 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
  • Salad
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. Make the Tahini Sauce Whisk all of the tahini ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  3. Make the Cucumber and Tomao Salad Mix all of the salad ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!



  1. Carrie says

    This looks so fresh, lite and delicious Lisa! When r u going to write a cookbook? I know all your recipes r easy to access on-line but it would be so lovely to have a book so I can have the visual pleasure of relaxing while turning pages and having beautiful photos stare back at me.

  2. says

    I am so impressed that you remained relatively calm about your son. But then what would hysterics do anyway. So might as well be calm. I can see why he spent his money on this. Hearty and delicious. I was a believer as soon as I scrolled down and saw the photo.

    • Andrea says

      Actually Israel is a very safe country to visit unless one is Palestinian. Israel is only dangerous for Palestinians — not Jews. Palestinians are illegally occupied and that is why it is far more dangerous to be a Palestinian than a Jew in Israel. I know because I have lived in Lebanon and my husband is from there.

  3. Matt of Matt and Barb says

    I didn’t know he was in THAT Israel. I thought he was in the other one. Looks like a great sandwich!

  4. jen says

    LOVE this, Lisa! I love the technique for heating the pita! I have never heard of that and I am always so frustrated how pita falls apart. Can’t wait to try. THANK YOU!

  5. Peggy DiPietro says


    Spent some time with Jennifer this summer! We talked about you and your blog and all the good times we had in NYC! So many years ago! Love your blog! I am a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi and his cookbooks. Thanks for sharing this recipe, on the menu for the weekend. Glad to hear your son is home safe and sound!

    Peggy DiPietro (Schiffenhaus)

    • says

      Hi Leslie! That’s great news – Great to hear from you and I’m so glad you loved the shawarma! It took me a while to perfect it – it had to pass muster with Paul!

  6. says

    Hi Lisa – I can’t imagine what you were going through with your son in the middle of the mess over there. Thank goodness he made it home safe!

    I have two of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks – Plenty and Jerusalem – and have not made a thing from them…yet!

    I’m so glad I barged in on your breakfast last weekend at the Food & Wine Conference! It was great chatting with you!

    • says

      Hi Amy – Yes, I’m extremely happy and relieved to have Paul home!
      As for Ottolenghi cookbooks, they are amazing! When you start cooking his recipes, you’re in for a treat.
      I’m also so glad we had a chance to chat at the conference!!
      PS – I can’t wait to try your Bulgogi recipe !!!

  7. says

    Your blog is already one of my favorites. Your photos are amazing and you pulled me right in by talking about your son. My take-away from the Food and Wine Conference was to add more stories from my life, which I do only once in a while. May I also say that, as a mom, you have nerves of steel! Thanks for sharing this recipe as well. I love learning about food from other cultures. I’ll share with recipe with my friends and co-workers.


  8. says

    I am not sure which I loved more on my trips to Israel, Shawarma or the frozen coffee drink. I have tried Shawarma here from a fabulous Lebanese bakery but the ingredients differ ever so slightly and the taste is not the same. I love your recipe and can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks, also, for the tip about heating up the pita so it stays stuffable vs breakable!

  9. Anu says

    Hi Lisa, thanks for posting this delicious n healthy recipe.Even if after being in the middle east for a long time, the idea never clicked me to make shawarmas at home, until i see ur recipe.It was easier in dubai to get it from small roadside restaurants.With ur recipe now I can make it at home anytime.thank u for explaining iin an easy way….God bless !

  10. Leona Shemza says

    Awww!! I cried when I read this post! I found your recipe when I was searching for hassleback potato recipes, loved your site so I started exploring! We are big fans of Schwarma in our house also! My husband makes them when we have dinner parties to delight our guests who are either missing Israeli food or never had it before all in all everyone loves this dish! Thank you for sharing!

    • says

      I’m really glad that you enjoyed my post about Shawarma,Leona – I think you might be the first person who ever shed a tear when reading my blog! :) So happy that you found Panning the Globe. I hope you’ll stick around and try some of the recipes. – L

  11. Kate says

    I made this tonight and it was delicious! The only thing I would add is perhaps a bit of salt to the chicken, but otherwise it was perfect. Would definitely make this again or even serve it as a salad with the tahini as a dip with pita chips on the side!


  1. […] Chicken Shawarma (Panning the Globe) This was tasty. It'd be tasty with the carrot tahini salad above, but maybe that'd be too much tahini? Possibly. I marinated it for well over 24 hours (used lemon zest, not juice in the marinade) and served it sans pita and on a salad instead. (Again, thanks Maura!) […]

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