Chicken Shawarma is a favorite Middle Eastern street food, often served in a pita or wrap. This lightened up version includes lentils, pickled vegetables, and an easy garlic yogurt sauce. Read on, or jump straight to the recipe, HERE.
Chicken Shawarma is one of those foods I never thought I could make at home. Middle Eastern food in general has a wall of mystery around it for me, a barrier I’ve slowly but gradually been breaking down. The giant slabs of meat rotating on a spit, the tantalizing blends of spices, the crisp pickled vegetables that bring any shawarma sandwich to life… that garlic sauce! They might seem intimidating, but in reality they are far simpler than you might think
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a few recipes for chicken shawarma, and the simplicity of the ingredients was surprising. I had all of these things in my pantry already. Could it really be so easy?
The answer is yes. Yes it can.
This recipe is my little spin on things. It’s a mish-mash of things I’ve tasted in restaurants and other recipes I’ve seen over the years. Basically, it’s franken-shawarma. I’m not claiming that it’s in any way traditional, but what I do know is this: it’s delicious.
One thing that always seems to be missing from shawarma recipes online are the pickled vegetables. And I get it, the recipe is for the chicken… but for me, that bright acidic crunch is a necessary component to any good shawarma plate or sandwich.
As The Husband was eating this, he paused thoughtfully and said, “you know, the pickled vegetables are good… but with the chicken? They are REALLY good.”
Noooow he gets it.
Don’t be discouraged by the lengthiness of this recipe — while it might look involved, it’s actually four recipes in one (the chicken, the pickled veg, the garlic sauce, the lentils) and each one is simple and straightforward to make. To simplify things, you can break it down into steps. Make the lentils and veg in advance, and get the chicken marinating the night before. On the day of, make the garlic sauce and cook the chicken, and you’ll be eating in a matter of minutes.
As always, I encourage you to play with this dish and make it your own. If you aren’t a fan of lentils, try using the turmeric rice from this recipe, or the quinoa from this one. Try different veggies in your pickle, or use flavored vinegars. Or just make the chicken and dunk it in sauce all on it’s own — that works, too.
I recommend grilling the chicken for the best flavor, but I’ve included directions for cooking it on the stove as well. You could probably bake it in the oven, too, but I haven’t tried it that way yet.
Can I just mention… it’s about 10 degrees here in Michigan, and was quite literally snowing on me when I snapped this photo. That char-grilled flavor, though? Worth it.
- 1 cup (200g) green or brown lentils
- 2¼ cups water
- ½ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
- optional: 1-2 TBSP olive oil and/or lemon juice, to taste
- 1½ - 2 cups thinly sliced vegetables -- red cabbage, turnips, red onions, beets, carrots, or any combination
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- 3 TBSP sugar
- 8-10 whole peppercorns
- 8-10 whole coriander seeds
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch thick strips or 1 inch cubes
- ¼ cup unsweetened greek yogurt
- 1 TBSP olive oiil
- 1½ tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. ground turmeric
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp. ground allspice
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt (or ½ tsp. fine-grain sea salt)
- ½ cup unsweetened greek yogurt
- 3-4 cloves roasted garlic, or 1 clove raw garlic
- 2-3 TBSP finely chopped english cucumber
- 2-3 TBSP finely chopped fresh mint
- 2-3 TBSP lemon juice, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- optional: ½ tsp. ground sumac, plus more for garnish (this is a common ingredient in middle eastern cuisine and has a lemony brightness in flavor. You can find it at most spice shops, or online HERE.)
- Rinse the lentils and pick over them to make sure there aren't any stones. Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, add the water and salt, and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a barely-there simmer.
- Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender enough to your liking. If there is still some water left in the pot when they've finished, you can drain them in a strainer. If they run out of water and aren't tender yet, add a splash more.
- When finished cooking, taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve as is, or with a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.
- Lentils can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to five days.
- Place all the vegetables into a pint sized jar or other lidded container. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the vegetables, allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. (Note: I suggest doing this all in one jar. However, if you are using a vegetable like beets or red cabbage and don't want the other veggies to be stained pink, you can separate them into their own jars. If you do, you may need to double the amount of brine (water, vinegar, salt, etc.) to fill all the jars. I did it this way because I didn't want everything stained pink in the photos, but normally I wouldn't bother.)
- Whisk together all of the ingredients in a big bowl or gallon sized baggie, add the chicken, and mix until all the chicken is evenly coated. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours, or in the fridge overnight.
- To cook the chicken on the grill: preheat the grill so it's nice and hot, clean the grates and brush with oil. Skewer the chicken, place on the heated grill, and cook for about 3-5 minutes per side depending on the heat of the grill, and how thick your chicken is. Grill until the pieces are cooked all the way through, then remove to a plate or cutting board and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. (Bonus tip, I prefer these metal skewers to wooden ones.)
- To cook the chicken on the stove: heat an extra 1-2 TBSP oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (cast iron is preferred to get a nice char, but a nonstick skillet will work too). Add the chicken and let cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until cooked all the way through. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Mash the garlic into a paste. If you're using roasted garlic, this is really easy. If you're using raw garlic, you can grate it on a microplane like this one , or grind it in a mortar and pestle to get a fine paste.
- Add the garlic to the yogurt along with all the other ingredients, and mix well. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Add a little of everything to a bowl, and dig in!
For this garlic yogurt sauce, I strongly recommend using roasted garlic if you can. Roasting garlic is a simple way to mellow the flavor and take away the bite. This way you get a ton of garlic flavor without the overpowering, almost spicy quality that raw garlic can have. You can find my tutorial on how to roast a whole head of garlic HERE. The same principle goes for roasting cloves of garlic, too -- just peel as many cloves as you want to use, and continue with the tutorial from there.
Shawarma recipe adapted from this Yogurt Marinated Shawarma. I love using yogurt for marinating chicken because the lactic acid tenderizes the meat and keeps it nice and juicy, plus it creates a wonderful char on the grill.
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