Cooking with Nancy: Chicken Shawarma

Ever since I first had chicken shawarma, I have been in love. A few years back when my nephew Julian was a baby, I used to babysit him when my sister and brother-in-law wanted to go out for the evening. Since they live a good hour’s drive from my house, it usually involved spending the night. They would treat me to dinner, and I always picked carry-out from this little Middle Eastern restaurant not far from their house that had the best chicken shawarma. Sadly, the restaurant went out of business a few years ago. I always meant to look for a recipe for shawarma, but never did, until a couple of weeks ago one came to me! Our local paper, The Detroit Free Press, had an article about the Muslim celebration of Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, and the paper included some Middle Eastern recipes for the holiday. Among them was CHICKEN SHAWARMA!!

I was surprised at how easy it was – I made the marinade last night and let it sit all night and all day today. I think the chicken was marinading about 18 hours by the time I got around to cooking it this evening! I didn’t eat it as a sandwich – instead I sliced the cooked chicken breast and served it over a bed of brown and wild rice (Bird’s Eye Steamfresh Brown and Wild Rice with Broccoli and Carrots), but I will definitely make it as a sandwich next time – this would make a good lunch!! Here’s the recipe (the recipe as it appears in the newspaper is in italics; my notes are not. The photos are mine) –

CHICKEN SHAWARMA (from the Detroit Free Press, August 25, 2011 edition)

Serves: 8 / Preparation time:10 minutes (plus marinating time) /Total time:35 minutes


  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground oregano or thyme
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Here are the marinade ingredients (not pictured – garlic cloves). I did not have regular plain yogurt, so I used Greek yogurt and cut it in half because it is much thicker than regular yogurt:


  • 2 pounds of thin boneless, skinless chicken breast
In a large bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 to 8 hours.
Chicken in marinade – the marinade smelled really good! I kept the garlic a little chunky and the paprika made it look kind of pink.


  • Pita bread
  • Tahini sauce or garlic sauce
  • Cucumber slices
  • Sliced tomatoes

Preheat the grill to medium. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Grill the chicken pieces until cooked through, about 12 minutes, depending on thickness. You also can use a grill pan, tabletop grill or panini press to cook the chicken. Once cooked, remove the chicken (leave the grill on) and shred the chicken.

My chicken after it was cooked and sliced – it was so moist and juicy and smelled divine:

To assemble shawarma sandwich, spread the tahini or garlic sauce on a pita bread, add the shredded chicken, cucumber slices and sliced tomatoes. Roll up the sandwich and grill again slightly just to warm the pita.

As I mentioned above, I did not make the chicken into a sandwich, but rather served it with rice. Doesn’t it look delicious? By the way, preparing it the way I did – without pita – makes it gluten-free! So if you’re following a GF diet, go ahead and indulge!

Cook’s note: To make the tahini sauce, combine 5 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup water, 2 garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press and 5 tablespoons lemon juice. To make the garlic sauce, purée 1 peeled bulb of garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil 1 tablespoon at time until the mixture becomes white and very creamy. This may take several minutes. Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons plain yogurt. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Adapated from several recipes.Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis with Tahini sauce.489calories(28% fromfat), 15 gramsfat(3 gramssat. fat), 42 gramscarbohydrates, 46 gramsprotein, 623 mgsodium, 104 mgcholesterol, 3 gramsfiber.


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