Let’s try to make a Chicken Shawarma-style lunch bowl. I’d like to find a chicken shawarma recipe which is close to the real thing. For lunch, we love to eat at the nearby Greek and Lebanese Serop’s Express Cafe with a cafeteria-style lunch line. The chicken shawarma plate or bowl with chicken, rice, salad and feta cheese is my favorite. I could eat at this restaurant every day for lunch. (For the quick service and tasty food!)
The restaurant has plenty of vegetable choices which are flavored with Middle Eastern spices. It is difficult for me to pick only two or three side dishes. But the chicken shawarma and rice combination has always fascinated me. As I watch the marinated chicken loaded on a spit, turn and roast for hours, I wondered if I could make this at home.
My interest and enthusiasm was bolstered by the fact that there are plenty of recipes posted on the internet for home roasted-chicken shawarma. All claimed they had duplicated the real thing.
I have tried many of the spice combinations of the internet recipes and can’t seem to get the right taste — the chicken at my favorite local restaurant doesn’t seem to have all the exotic spices mentioned — cinnamon, coriander, allspice, cloves. Their chicken is just “hot” with alot of garlic. Perhaps it is the Louisiana influence. I have now settled on a spice combination that makes a tasty chicken shawarma-like copy. It’s not the real thing; but close enough and mighty good.
Now we are just back from a trip to Hamburg, Germany. I sampled the Chicken Shawarma at a local Turkish restaurant. This chicken did have distinct flavors of cinnamon and other spices–and it wasn’t “hot”. Perhaps this is a more traditional and authentic recipe. These guys have an interesting electric knife which sheared thin pieces of meat. Anyway, I’ll stick with my recipe for now.
Chicken Shawarma Recipe
My recipe is adapted from a New York Times blog post. Their recipe received good ratings with one person commenting that he served the chicken at a wedding for 200 guests; they loved it. So that’s good enough for me.
One decision is what kind of chicken pieces should you use: boneless chicken breasts or thighs? Serop’s Express Cafe uses chicken breasts. However, most of the internet recipes called for boneless chicken thighs–these are a little higher in fat content. After trying many versions with chicken breasts, I realized that chicken breasts are just too dry when made at home. So I “went authentic” and purchased boneless chicken thighs, cutting them in half and removing as much of the remaining skin, tendons and fat as possible. The thighs, when prepared at home, are extremely tender and juicy. Just right for this recipe.The spice blend used in the New York Times recipe was rather simple; and I modified it further to use only spices that I really like. These included paprika, cumin, turmeric, salt, fresh cracked pepper, red pepper flakes and lots of fresh mashed garlic. (I omitted the cinnamon.) The blend has plenty of kick and Middle Eastern flare. Lemon juice rounds out the blend.
After blending the spices together, I add lemon juice and coated all the chicken pieces with this marinade along with olive oil. The chicken marinated in the refrigerator for several hours. The spice recipe makes enough to coat 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs.
To roast the chicken, place on a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for about 20 minutes, along with a cut-up purple onion. Finish by broiling the chicken for 5 minutes close to the heating element to caramelize or brown the chicken pieces. Then, remove from oven and slice the chicken across the grain; as they do at the restaurant.
The other unique aspect of my chicken shawarma-like bowl is the rice. Middle Eastern rice is a flaky, long grain rice. It is not sticky. I found some of this basmati rice at a local market featuring Muslim and Middle Eastern foods — Lebanese, Jordanian and Palestine. The store had rows and rows of bags of the rice. Guess I came to the right store. “This is the best rice,” proclaimed the store’s proprietor.
Back to the chicken shawarma-like bowl.
At Serop’s Express Cafe, the lunch chicken shawarma bowl starts with the rice. Then the server loads on a lettuce salad which includes lemon juice, parsley and olive oil. Next comes the chicken shawarma, feta cheese and zaartari sauce and lastly anything else you want — cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli (chopped parsley and bulgar wheat) and pita bread. Serop’s bowl is shown in the first photo at the top of the blog. Here’s my salad bowl. Yum. Both are great.This is a healthy lunch; lots of vegetables along with the chicken shawarma. Although it’s not exactly like the real thing; it still is very tasty.
Homemade Chicken Shawarma-Style Bowl
- 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 large red onion, or 3 small sweet white onions
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
- 1 tsp fine sea salt (or table salt)
- 2 tsp ground paprika
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- cooked long grain basmati rice, pita bread, lettuce and parsley coated with lemon juice and olive oil, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, feta cheese, sour cream, as desired
Method and Steps:
- Wash and rinse the chicken thighs, remove any remaining skin, fat and tendons. Cut into halves and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
- Peel and cut the large red onion into wedges, or cut the 3 small sweet onions in quarters, Set aside.
- Make the marinade. Combine salt, paprika, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes and black pepper in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and make a paste.
- Sprinkle the marinate over the chicken pieces and toss to coat well. Add the olive oil and toss again. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour up to 12 hours.
- When ready to cook, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer the chicken pieces in a single layer to the foil. Add the onion wedges around, tossing to coat with the marinade.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Then place on a rack about 6″ from top oven heating element and broil for 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool until chicken can be handled. Slice into strips and transfer to serving platter along with onion slices.
- Serve chicken shwarama bowls with chicken, rice, pita bread, lettuce and parsley salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese and sour cream as desired.
Here’s our local Serop’s Express Cafe. The original restaurant in Baton Rouge opened in 1979; they have now expanded to 7 locations. Our nearby restaurant has added a drive-through window; although we usually go inside to eat. Anyway, with the cafeteria-style serving line, it is a quick and easy lunch.