Taste of the Middle East: Chicken Shawarma

I love ethnic food, but cooking it at home can be tough. Most of the time, I feel like the flavors don’t come out quite right and I’d rather eat it at a restaurant. But this Middle Eastern dish turned out amazingly well. The marinade for the chicken is made up of a flavorful mix of spices, including smoky cumin and cardamom, which is a strong, aromatic spice that I think tastes a bit floral. It’s expensive, so I recommend buying a small amount from a grocery store like Henry’s that sells spices in bulk.

The recipe is from Rachael Ray’s “Just In Time” cookbook — she calls it “Make your own take out.” Shawarma is typically made with meat roasted on a spit — the cook will shave some off the big hunk of rotating, roasting meat and throw it in your pita. This version is healthier and less mystery-meat-esque. The yogurt-tahini sauce puts it over the top. It’s tart and nutty and ties all the flavors together in the pita — hit it with some olive oil on top before serving.

TW’s Tips

  • I used pepperoncinis instead of banana pepper rings and they were a great hit of spiciness.
  • I’m not a huge onion fan, so I halved the red onion.
  • Don’t bother cutting up the parsley — just tear off some leaves and throw them in the pita.
  • Use whole wheat pitas if you want to be healthier.
  • Make sure you use red and yellow peppers instead of green. They’re sweeter.

Chicken Shawarma


  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning (Montreal Steak)
  • Juice of 1 lemon, divided
  • 1 large clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used two large breasts and it was plenty)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 4 pitas
  • Banana pepper rings (optional)

Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to high.

In a bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, cardamom, chili powder, paprika and grill seasoning. Add the juice of half a lemon, the garlic and about 3 tablespoons EVOO and stir until it is paste-like. Slather the mixture all over the chicken until it is well-coated.

Transfer to the grill and cook on each side for 6-7 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the grill and let the chicken rest before thinly slicing. Once the chicken is working, preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Once you see the oil ripple, add the onions and peppers, and season with some salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until the veggies start to wilt. Once the onions are working make the sauce: In a bowl, combine the juice of the remaining half lemon, the tahini, yogurt, some salt and a small drizzle of EVOO. Mix to combine.

Place the pitas on the grill to warm them and give them a light char, about 1 minute on each side. To assemble, place some of the sliced chicken on each pita, top with some of the pepper and onion mixture, and a good dollop of the yogurt-tahini sauce.


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