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Food from Home: Shawarmas!

Posted Jan 24 2012 6:00am

Welcome to part II of my Food from Home series! If you missed Part I about Tabbouleh and how I ended up moving to the Middle East in the first place , check if out, then come back to read some more!

Today I’ve got a recipe for a dish that you’re probably already very familiar with. Shawarmas and their variations are common throughout the Middle East, and they were one of my favourite quick dinners when I lived in Bahrain. Shawarma shops have popped up a lot here in Canada – well, in my city anyway – but I’ve yet to come across one that tastes the same as they did at home.

In Bahrain, there are tons of street vendors and little shawarma restaurants in the villages, as well as downtown. The food is cheap, but unlike a lot of fast food options (and yes, a lot of folk over there absolutely love their McD’s!) it’s actually really fresh and healthy. Obesity is a problem in the Middle East just like it is here in North America, but as you’re about to see, there’s nothing really “unhealthy” about the ingredients in a shawarma.

The guys that own these little shops have their meat cooking down to a science. They know how much they can expect to sell in one day, and they pile the meats onto these giant spikes accordingly:

Clearly, this particular restaurant is a very popular one!! When the meat is on the spike (usually chicken, beef, or lamb), it cooks slowly to perfection, with all of the excess fat dripping off the bottom.

Once the meat is ready, it gets shaved off and roughly chopped into strips. Then it gets piled onto pitas or Lebanese flatbread. (Sometimes the meat is eaten without the pita, along with other things like tabbouleh and salads, but today I’m referring to the rolled up sandwich kind.)

There are various other fillings for the pitas, including mixed veggies, pickles, parsley, hummus, and a creamy sauce. The sauce tastes very strongly of garlic and tahini, and so far I haven’t found a shawarma place locally that makes it quite the same as home. However, I’ve been experimenting for a while and finally came up with a version that is pretty close.

Now, you might be asking: That looks an awful lot like a Turkish kebab, or a Greek/Mediterranean gyro, or a donair, or whatever… Well, yes, it’s pretty much the same thing. Shawarma is an Arabic word, but there are variations of the dish and its name all over the world. Within Bahrain alone (which remember, is a country but is only the size of a large city), there are Lebanese, Turkish and Saudi-style shawarmas.

So now that you know about the process, here’s the recipe!

Chicken Shawarmas

by Angela

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 15 mins

Keywords: grill saute entree lunch sandwich high protein nut-free soy-free chicken Arabic Middle Eastern

Ingredients (2 servings)

1/4 tsp each ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, chili powder, and all spice 1/2 tsp smoked paprika 1 clove minced garlic 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp lemon juice 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 250g total cup assorted sliced veggies such as onions, sweet bell peppers, and cucumbers 2 pitas, about 6 inches in diameter, preferably whole wheat

For the Sauce:


In a resealable plastic bag, combine all spices, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. Once mixed into an even marinade, reserve 1 tbsp in a small bowl and set aside. Place the chicken breasts in the bag and toss to coat with the marinade.

Heat a grill or spray a non-stick frying pan with a little bit of olive oil. Remove the chicken breasts from the bag and either grill them or pan-fry until no longer pink in the middle and cooked throughout. On a grill, this takes about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.

While the chicken is cooking, slice the veggies into strips and stir together the ingredients for the sauce.

When the chicken is ready, let it sit until cool enough to handle. Chop each chicken breast roughly into strips and divide evenly amongst the 2 pitas, keeping chicken to one side of each piece.

In a non-stick frying pan, lightly sautee the vegetables (except for cucumber) in the reserved 1 tbsp of sauce. This should only take 1-2 minutes. The vegetables should be warm, but still crisp.

Divide the vegetable mixture and cucumber pieces, if using, amongst the pitas, on top of the chicken.

Add the sauce on top of the vegetables.

Fold the bottom portion of the pita bread inward, then roll up the side, trying to keep all ingredients tucked in.


Approximate nutrition per serving (assuming all ingredients including all of the sauce are used): 453 calories, 12g fat (2g saturated), 73mg cholesterol, 461mg sodium, 44g carbs, 6g fiber, 6g sugar, 44g protein.

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Breaking it down for the visual learners:

Making the sauce with smooth, creamy yogurt…

The grilled chicken, deliciously golden and spiced…

Choppity chop chop…

Loaded inside…

and piled high…

Smothered in sauce…

…. rolled up, and ready to eat!

So tell me…

  • Are you a shawarma/gyro/kebab/donair fan?
  • What is your heritage? Do you have a favourite cultural dish? I have Scottish roots, but haggis is by no means a favourite of mine. Scottish salmon, Scottish oats, and Scottish shortbread on the other hand – now that is the fine cuisine that I’m proud of! ;)
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