A simple chicken shawarma recipe with tender, smokey and flavorful chicken and a salty garlic and lemon yogurt sauce served over crisp veggies and warm pita bread.
The first time I heard the word “shawarma,” was watching The Avengers, and I had exactly the same reaction to it as Tony. *I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.*
Marvel via Directorstarkk
If you’re in the same boat OR you’re already a shawarma fan and just want to make it at home, read on, friend, because homemade shawarma is a treat.
What is Shawarma?
Shawarma (also spelled shaurma, shoarma, shwarma, and shawirma) is a Middle Eastern dish made by roasting a cone of meat on a vertical spit. To serve, the meat is shaved off the cone and wrapped in flatbread.
(And just in case you’re wondering, yes, the cooking process and presentation is very similar to gyros, but the two differ in toppings, seasonings, and type of meat traditionally used.)
Full disclosure, since I don’t have a roasting spit in my kitchen (and I’m guessing you don’t either), we’ll be cooking our shawarma meat on the stove top, so it’s not technically real shawarma, but it is real good.
Honestly, it’s tasty enough that you might be willing to fight an alien invasion or two to get your hands on some.
Fortunately, no fighting is required. Chicken Shawarma is actually a really simple dinner to whip up.
How to Make Chicken Shawarma
You will need:
- Some boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- A few basic spices (turmeric might be the only one you don’t already have in your spice drawer)
- Pita or other flatbread
- Veggies for topping
- Plain Greek yogurt, garlic, and lemon juice for the shawarma sauce
The thighs get marinated in olive oil and a mixture of fresh garlic and spices and are then cooked up on the stovetop. Since we’re working with chicken thighs, they’re quick to cook and the meat stays tender and moist without a ton of fuss.
After the thighs are done, you’ll deglaze the pan with a bit of chicken broth or water and give some red onions a quick sauté in the drippings. Wrap the chicken and onions in flatbread, add the rest of the veggies, and then you’ll just need a bit of yogurt sauce to finish things off.
This garlic yogurt shawarma sauce is just unsweetened yogurt, a bit of lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper. It’s a perfect light and tangy topping that really complements the rest of the flavors in the shawarma.
And if you have any leftovers, you can thin it with a bit of milk and use it as a creamy dressing for your lunch salad the next day.
What to Serve With Shawarma
As a popular street food, shawarma is often served wrapped up with french fries. I highly recommend the french fry option, and the yogurt sauce doubles as an excellent fry dipping sauce.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, try serving it with a side of tabbouleh and some sliced cucumbers (which are also great dipped in the yogurt sauce.)
Bonus: Then, just to make things real authentic, you trash the place, invite some beautiful but filthy and exhausted people over and instant easy shawarma party. Enjoy!
Shawarma Recipe Notes
- If you don’t have Greek yogurt for the shawarma sauce, plain, regular yogurt can be substituted. Your sauce will just be slightly thinner.
- And if you like a little added fat in your shawarma sauce, add a couple spoonfuls of mayonnaise to your sauce, which adds a really satisfying richness and makes the yogurt sauce even better on fries.
- For a lighter take on Chicken Shawarma, try this Shawarma Chicken Salad.
- For more delicious nerdy dinners, try Frey Pie, Hannibal’s Loma Saltado, and American Gods Beef Pasties.
Chicken Shawarma With Yogurt Sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic pressed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
Pita & Toppings
- 1 small red onion cut into wedges
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
- 4 pita bread loaves
- 4-5 leaves romaine shredded
- 1 cucumber chopped
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 5 to 6 ounces (2/3 cup) plain Greek yogurt*
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic pressed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Place chicken in a plastic bag and pour marinade over the top. Shake to coat and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Make Yogurt Sauce
- In a small bowl (or the disposable yogurt cup), combine ingredients and stir until well incorporated.
- Preheat your oven to the warm setting (or lowest setting).
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add chicken thighs (dispose of the marinade) and cook for 2-4 minutes until first side is seared and darkly golden. Flip and cook for an additional 2-4 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the thighs reads 160°F. Flip chicken again if necessary and turn down the heat if the chicken seems to be burning.
- Transfer chicken to a plate and place a piece of foil over the thighs to keep them warm. Set aside.
- Over medium high-heat, deglaze your pan with a little chicken broth or water (about a quarter cup), scraping the burned and blackened pieces off the bottom while the liquid simmers.
- Add onions to your pan.
- Place your pita bread into the warm oven to heat while your onions cook.
- Cook onions until your they reach your desired level of doneness (for me, about 4 minutes for fairly soft onions). Remove from heat.
- Slice thighs into strips and serve over warmed pita bread. Top with cooked onions, romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt sauce.
Make-ahead Instructions: Chicken, onions, and yogurt sauce can be cooked/prepared up to two days in advance. The rest of the vegetables should be cut just before serving.
Recipe For Two Instructions: Half of 1/4 cup of olive oil is 2 tablespoons and half of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice is 1 tablespoon, 1 1/2 teaspoon. The rest of this recipe halves cleanly.
Freezer Instructions: The cooked chicken thighs freeze well. The onions can be frozen, but will have a softer, slightly mushy texture after re-heating. Freeze both in air-tight containers and keep up to 4 months. The fresh veggies are not good candidates for freezing . To store leftover pita bread, wrap in foil, freeze in a freezer bag, and defrost on the counter or in the microwave, sprinkled with a bit of water. Frozen pita should be used as soon as possible because it will dry out the longer it’s kept in the freezer.
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