Make this traditional Middle Eastern cuisine at home with an oven-roasted marinated chicken, chopped veggies and garlicky shawarma sauce wrapped in a fresh, hot tortilla. Chicken Shawarma, a Lebanese classic street food.
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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Bonding over a shared feast, a beautiful concept.
Today we are bonding over a shared recipe. Shawarma has travelled from the Levantine region in the eastern Mediterranean to central Mexico by immigrants. It also spread to all regions of the Ottoman empire which includes Greece, the Crimean peninsula, North African coastline from Egypt to Morocco and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Shawarma is marinated meat BBQ’d on a large vertical rotisserie skewer where the cooked edges are shaved off, served with vegetables and sauce on a flatbread. There are both familial and regional variations and each geographical area has a new name for it. Hopefully this will answer the questions between the differences of gyros vs. shawarma vs. tacos al pastor. To clear things up further, I have listed the variations by regions below.
Shawarma variations by region.
- Ottoman Turkey <Doner Kebap> – Doner Kebap is a Turkish phrase that means ‘rotating roast’. Doner Kebap or Kebab is the original BBQ meat wrapped in flatbread with vegetables. All other variations came from this. This style of cooking meat is relatively new. It was invented by the Ottoman Turks in the 19th century. Doner Kebap is made of any meat except pork; served on a plate, stuffed in a pita or thin wrap similar to a large tortilla, or on bread to make a sandwich. The vegetables served with it may include tomato, cucumber, cabbage, onion, chilies or pickles and sprinkled with sumac. Collectively, these variations are called simply ‘kebab’.
- Lebanon <Shawarma> – Shawarma is an Arabic word derived from a Turkish word that means ‘turning’. Usually made with chicken, sometimes with lamb or beef. The vegetables are the same as for the Doner Kebap. The sauce varies depending on preference. A garlicky Toum sauce is a favorite as well as a vinegary Amba sauce or a tahini sauce with garlic.
- Greece <Gyro> – Gyro means ‘turn’ in Greek. This is usually made with lamb but chicken and pork are increasingly becoming popular. In the U.S., a lamb/beef combo is served. The fillings include tomato, cucumber, onion and Tzatziki sauce, all wrapped in a pita or pita-like flatbread. After WWII, Doner Kebap was introduced in Athens by immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East. A lamb version with Tzatziki sauce developed soon after. In the 1970’s, the gyro made its way to New York City and Chicago. Soon, an enterprising woman by the name of Margaret Garlic came up with the idea of mass-produced meat cones for the gyro rotisseries made of lamb and beef.
- Mexico <Tacos al pastor> – Al pastor means ‘shepherd style’ in Spanish. This cuisine was brought to central Mexico by Christian Lebanese immigrants in the late 19th century. Locals adopted this style of BBQ but used pork instead. Shawarma and Doner Kebab uses anything but pork as pork is forbidden by the Quran. This Mexican version of the Doner Kebab is pork marinated in dried chillies, spices and pineapple. It is served on corn tortillas with cilantro, onion, salsa and sometimes pineapple, then topped with fresh lime juice. Tacos Arabes is the version from Puebla, Mexico and is wrapped in a pita-style flatbread called arabes. An interesting full circle happened when a chicken version of the Tacos al pastor style made it’s way back to the Middle East where it is known as Shawarma Mexici, a flatbread filled with chicken, garlicky mayo, dill pickle and french fries! I had to use an exclamation point, this is too funny.
I came up with this version of Shawarma in my oven so that I may enjoy this robust wrap at home. I have an electric oven so I placed the marinated meat just a few inches from the heating element where it cooked relatively quickly and developed some tasty charring. After chopping the meat and making the vegetable relish and sauce, I simply assembled and indulged. This was a dish both David and I really enjoyed. Being empty nesters we had lots of leftovers and we ate this at least four days in a row and didn’t get tired of it. That is a winner for dinner in my book.
If you make this, let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below. If you are entertaining, make all of the ingredients ahead of time and simply heat up the tortillas and meat in the microwave. A shawarma bar, that could be a thing.
More Middle Eastern Recipes:
- Gyro – A Greek version of the shawarma.
- Moroccan Chicken and Pineapple Kebab – An easy oven version of this skewered classic.
- Lamb Curry Burrito – A fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisine.
- Middle Eastern Kofta – Little meat loaves with robust seasonings.
- Muhammara Dip – A quick and easy roasted red pepper dip made easy in the food processor with jarred red peppers.
- Cilbur – Turkish eggs eaten with crusty bread.
- Aleppo Lamb and Potatoes – A traditional Syrian dish that is easy to make.
- Mana’eesh – A Middle Eastern flatbread seasoned with olive oil and za’atar.
- Moroccan Harira Soup – A Middle Eastern classic that is traditionally eaten to break fast.
شهية جيدة – Buen Provecho – καλή όρεξη
This article was made possible by my favorite resources, Wikipedia and Google translate.
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