Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients

For the marinade

  •   Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 Cup  yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons  olive oil
  • cloves garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons  ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon  vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  ground allspice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  salt
  • 2 Tablespoons  tahini sauce
  • 1/4 Tablespoon  ground cardamom
  • 1/4 Teaspoon  ground clove
  • 1/8 Teaspoon  nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon  crushed bay leaf
  • 1/4 Teaspoon  cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  ground mastic*

For the chicken

  • 2 Tablespoons  olive oil
  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs, sliced**
  • yellow or white onion, sliced
  •   1-2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
  •   Tahini sauce, for serving
  •   French fries (optional)
  •   Sliced pickles (optional)

Chicken shawarma is a popular sandwich in the Middle East. It is basically a wonderful roasted chicken that has been marinated in an amazing yogurt spice mix, wrapped in pita bread with some pickles, fries, and tahini or garlic sauce. The secret to a chicken shawarma sandwich that is as good as — if not better than — your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant is the spice mix.

Mastic is one of the key players in that spice mix; you can find it at Greek or Middle Eastern stores. Buying a little will go a long way because it is used in very small amounts in recipes (it does wonders when added to ice cream or rice pudding).

This particular recipe for chicken shawarma came after a lot of experimenting and trying different recipes. The spice mix and cooking the onions and tomatoes with the chicken in the last five minutes (as opposed to using them raw) makes this sandwich a family favorite after the first bite.

If you want to add a smoky taste to the chicken, a trick I learned from my aunt is to get some tin foil and make it like a little plate. Heat a little piece of coal, and when it starts turning red, put it on the tin foil plate. Next, add a little piece of butter on top of the coal. It will start to smoke. Put the tin foil cup on top of the chicken shawarma in the pot and cover it for five to 10 minutes. The chicken will have a smoky flavor, almost as if it were grilled.

Directions

For the marinade

In a medium-sized bowl, mix all of the ingredients together and set aside.

For the chicken

Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours, preferably overnight.

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Drain the chicken and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear (a meat thermometer inserted into the center without touching the bone should register 165 degrees).

Move the chicken to the edge of the pan, add the onion, and sauté for 2 minutes. Move the onion aside and add the tomatoes. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then stir the chicken, onions, and tomatoes together and cook for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Open up the pita bread to form a pocket, and spread some tahini sauce inside. Add the chicken, onion, and tomato mixture. Add some french fries and sliced pickles, if using. Roll the pita bread and serve.

Notes

*Note: Mastic is an essential part of the spice mix for this recipe, and can be found in Greek and Middle Eastern grocery stores as well as online.

**Note: I prefer mixing both; the fat in the thighs adds flavor and keeps the chicken moist.

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