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

Ingredients

  • 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.

Turkey Bacon Double Cheese Burgers with Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce and Citrus Slaw

I’m doing a lot of traveling for work in the next few weeks, so I’m reliving “real” food (a.k.a. not restaurant food) with this post — Turkey Bacon Double Cheese Burgers with Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce and Citrus Slaw. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out. Looove eating out. But after a few days I’m really craving something homemade. I’d love to have one of these burgers right about now!

I made this for dinner last Sunday night with my aunt, uncle and cousin. It was a winner. If I’m going to have a burger, I tend to opt for a real, beef burger. But these — made from turkey — are some of the most tasty turkey burgers I’ve ever had. You’d never guess they were turkey. The cilantro incorporated into the burger was perfect and bright — if you’re a cilantro lover, and I definitely am. The burgers are topped with a slice of spicy pepper jack cheese, then fire-roasted tomato sauce — yum. The sauce is nice and smoky and the perfect anti-ketchup (made from REAL tomatoes, thank you!). It’s worth the trouble of finding canned fire-roasted tomatoes instead of just regular diced. The flavor is much deeper and more robust.

TW’s Tips

  • The recipe calls for double burgers, but that’s just too much, as far as I’m concerned. I used one package of ground turkey (about 1.25 pounds) and made 5 burgers. Much more reasonable, and plenty of food. I didn’t even adjust the amounts of the additions to the meat mixture — and it turned out great.
  • I used regular bacon. Sorry, but turkey bacon is just not bacon.
  • The slaw isn’t great the next day. I’d recommend eating it day-of, or not dressing the whole thing.
  • Rachael talks a lot about sandwich-size English muffins, which I have never found. I used regular ones.
  • Add avocado. ‘Nuff said.
Enjoy!

Turkey Bacon Double Cheese Burgers with Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling plus 1 tablespoon
  • 8 slices turkey bacon (I use real bacon)
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground turkey breast (I use just one package, about 1.25 pounds)
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • A handful cilantro, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons zest and the juice of 2 limes
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, lightly drained
  • 2 rounded tablespoons grainy mustard
  • 8 slices pepper jack cheese, from the deli counter
  • 4 large sandwich size English muffins, lightly toasted

Directions

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add the turkey bacon. Cook until crisp, 3 minutes on each side, remove to plate.

While the bacon cooks, combine the turkey breast, green onions, cilantro, chipotle, paprika, salt and pepper, lime zest and juice. Mix the turkey breast with seasonings and form 4 sections, from each, 2 patties. Place the first 4 patties in the pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the skillet and place onto a plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm

While the first batch of burgers cook heat 1 tablespoon oil in a sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and soften 3 to 4 minutes, season with salt and pepper and then add Worcestershire, brown sugar, tomatoes, and mustard. Let the sauce cook on low.

Add the second batch of burgers to the skillet and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Top with a slice of cheese and 2 pieces bacon. Tent skillet with foil and cook on low to moderate heat to melt cheese, about 1 minute.

Place burgers on muffin bottoms. Top with bacon double cheese burgers, fire roasted tomato sauce and English muffin top.

Citrus Slaw

  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-3 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1/4-1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 pound sack shredded slaw salad mix
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove metal top from jar and loosen the marmalade up in microwave 15 seconds. Spoon loosened marmalade into a bowl then whisk in lemon and lime juice, hot sauce and EVOO. Toss slaw salad with dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Chutney and Cheddar-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Oh yeah — recipe success! I made this delicious meal — Chutney and Cheddar-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with BLTPs (Bacon Leek Tomato Potatoes) — for dinner Wednesday night.

The recipe is from Rachael Ray’s “Big Orange Book.” I am a BIG Rachael Ray fan. Not so much of her as a person (she can be a little much, and her cooking show is annoying), but I’m a fan of her cookbooks (I have pretty much every single one) and her easy, reliable, yummy recipes. I’m a champ at following a recipe and she makes it pretty fool-proof.

TW’s tips for this recipe:

  • I used multicolored potatoes to give the BLTPs a bit more color.
  • I omitted chicken stock, which she called for as a finishing touch to the potatoes. I didn’t want to lose the crispy finish on the potatoes and felt like it would turn the whole dish into mush. So I took that part out of the recipe below.
  • I used mango chutney because I had some in the fridge, but I’d love to hear how this is with another kind!
  • I used top notch extra sharp Cabot cheddar — it makes all the difference. The sharpness of the cheese and the sweetness of the chutney, combined with the nice brown crust on the chicken was killer!
  • I cooked this on a night when it was way too hot to use the oven. Don’t do that. I hated myself. But I was much happier once I ate this meal.

Chutney and Cheddar-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with BLTPs (Bacon Leek Tomato Potatoes)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds red bliss, fingerling or baby Yukon gold potatoes, skin left on
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus additional
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons prepared chutney
  • 8 slices sharp white cheddar
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Place potatoes onto a baking sheet, drizzle them with a little EVOO and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss them to evenly coat and move them to one half your baking sheet. Roast them for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

After 20 minutes, toss the tomatoes onto the empty half of the baking sheet, drizzle them with a little EVOO and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the pan to the oven and continue roasting another 20 minutes, turning the veggies occasionally but keeping them separate, until the potatoes are tender and the tomatoes have burst open.

Once the tomatoes go into the oven, place the chicken breasts onto a cutting board and cut a pocket into one side of each of them using a paring knife. Spread about 1 tablespoon of chutney and place 2 slices of cheddar inside the pocket of each. Season the outside of each breast with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat with 1 turn of the pan of EVOO, about 1 tablespoon, and sear the chicken breasts in the large pan until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per side.

Once the chicken is seared on both sides, transfer them to the oven to finish cooking, about 5-6 minutes (if your pan is oven-safe, just put the whole pan in the oven. Otherwise put the meat onto a baking sheet before moving it to the oven).

Once the chicken goes into the oven, place another large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add the bacon and cook, about 2-3 minutes. Once the bacon starts to brown, add the leeks and cook until tender, another 4-5 minutes.

When the vegetables have finished roasting, transfer them to the skillet with the bacon and leeks. Season everything with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve up the cooked chicken breasts with a scoop of BLTPs alongside.