I’ve been craving chicken shawarma ever since I first saw The Avengers movie (years ago!) Since I’m in NY, and the city wasn’t really broken like in the movie, I even looked up the place where the last scene was filmed (when they were all sitting around eating shawarma). But somehow, I never managed to get there. I was re-watching the movie again recently and had the same craving again. Then I thought, wait, I know how to cook! Why go out and schlep all the way to midtown when I can make homemade chicken shawarma instead?
So, I went to the Internet. This dish is traditionally made on a spit or a rotisserie, but who has a roasting spit in their home? Not me, and certainly not in my tiny kitchen. The oven works just fine. If you want, you can roast the chicken first, and then fry it in a pan to make it crispier. I prefer my chicken moist and tender, so I skipped that step.
You make this dish in two stages. First marinate the chicken, then make the yogurt sauce, and let both sit in the fridge. It’s best if it sits overnight, but allow at least an hour so that the flavors have time to blend together.
I put the chicken and the marinade ingredients in a plastic zip lock bag, shook it all up, and rubbed the sauce into the meat. One less bowl to clean! The yogurt sauce went into a small ramekin.
There are hundreds of different ways to make the sauce: with za’atar or sumac, with dill, mint, basil, mostly mayo, yogurt/mayo, and on and on and on. I’ve listed several different variations, just pick the one that suits your tastes and the ingredients you have on hand.
I left the more exotic options out of the instructions since they are a bit exotic in the US and I try to stick to ingredients that are readily accessible. The lemon zest, salt, and pepper that are in the recipe are a decent substitute for the sumac. You can combine thyme, sesame seeds, sumac (or lemon pepper), plus salt and make your own za’atar substitute.
If you like, combine the dry ingredients for the marinade together and keep them in a spice jar. Then, you just have to add fresh lemon juice and you’re ready to cook.
Serve this with a Greek salad, rice, olives, feta, or even (gasp) French fries. Fried or roasted eggplant would be great too.
Homemade Chicken Shawarma
Get takeout flavor right in your own kitchen. Homemade chicken shawarma is a meal all by itself.
- Homemade Shawarma Marinade
- 1/2 small lemon, juiced (divided, about 2-3 T total; use 2T for the marinade and one for the sauce)
- 2 T plus 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- generous pinch turmeric (about 1/8 tsp)
- pinch cinnamon
- red pepper flakes
- 1 chicken thigh (bone-in)
- 1/2 onion, cut in quarters
- One pita bread
- Yogurt Sauce
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 T mayonnaise
- 1 T lemon juice
- grating of lemon zest (healthy pinch)
- small clove minced garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
- Optional Sauce ingredients
- minced mint
- minced dill
- chopped cucumber
- Start by making the marinade for the chicken. Pour all the marinade ingredients into a plastic zip lock bag. Mix it all up with a spoon.
- Add the chicken, close the bag, and shake it, and rub the marinade into the meat. Set in the fridge for at least an hour (preferably overnight).
- Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl or ramekin. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour (or overnight).
- Preheat the toaster oven to 425 degrees.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge, open the bag, and add the onion. Close the bag and shake to mix it all up.
- Grease the toaster oven tray (or a small rimmed baking pan) with the remaining oil. Pour the chicken and marinade onto the pan.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it sit for a minute or two until it's cool enough to handle. Cut the chicken up (save the bone for soup), and place on the pita.
- Drizzle the sauce over the meat and serve.
Homemade Chicken Shawarma Substitutions and Variations
- Serve with Persian or English cucumbers and fresh tomatoes
- Top with feta cheese
- Add chopped dill or mint to the sauce
- Put za’atar or sumac in the sauce
- Make the sauce with tahini
- Serve with a Greek salad (olives, feta, tomatoes, and cucumber)
Tools and Ingredients for Homemade Chicken Shawarma
Porcelain Ramekins (set of 6)
These little ramekins are super-handy in the kitchen. I use them for dips, sauces, mixing up a quick salad dressing, nuts, slices of lemon to squeeze on fish, and olives. Use one for the olives, and another to hold the pits (works for cherries too). Or, you can even use them for spare change.
If you want to try actual za’atar, make sure to look carefully at the ingredients. Some of them have wheat (?!?) in them, and others are just thyme (which is the English translation). You want a mixture with sumac and hyssop. This one delivers what it should. Use it for the yogurt sauce, add it to roasted vegetables or fish, or sprinkle it into olive oil and serve with pita bread.
Sumac adds a pop of bright red color, as well as a citrusy, lemon flavor to food. It’s great with hummus, over fish, mixed in salads, or on potatoes. There’s no additives, salt, or other fillers in this jar, just sumac.
More Middle Eastern Recipes
Shakshouka for One
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Chopped Israeli Salad for One Person
An easy, healthy side dish with no cooking required. Or, serve with olives, plain yogurt (or lebne) and pita and call it breakfast like the Israelis do.
Vegetarian Eggplant Sandwich for One Person
See that Israeli salad above? Add some pita bread, fried eggplant, hummus, spinach, and a hard boiled egg, and it’s now a sandwich!
Spicy Lamb and Lentils
Lamb and lentils are a classic Middle Eastern combination. This one is flavored with cumin, garlic, and just a pinch of red pepper flakes. It’s flavorful, but not spicy. And fast too.