Although I love to try exotic, complicated recipes as a challenge, it is still my greatest pleasure to cook for my family a meal on the barbecue that they love, like hotdogs and hamburgers, or grilled pizza. But this time, I found a delicious, simple marinade for chicken to emulate homemade shawarma. Other than marinating the chicken, everything else can be store-bought if you wish, making this meal even simpler.
This recipe is on Yotam Ottlenghi’s website. I own all three of his cookbooks, Ottolenghi, Plenty and Jerusalem…fabulous, delicious middle-eastern fare with plenty of aromatic spices. So when I found Chicken Shawarma recipe on his website, I had to give this spice blend a try. A blend of warm spices of ras-el-hanout, a Moroccan blend (or a more complex ras-el-hanout on my blog or you can buy a pre-made blend at Cardamom & Cloves, on Preston Street in Ottawa), along with sunny yellow turmeric, sweet paprika, pungent cumin, burgundy sumac and fragrant ground cardamom.
I know that ground cardamom can be bought at the supermarket but I have never found it very fragrant until I bought the whole cardamom pods, split them to remove the seeds and ground them up in my spice grinder. The scent of freshly ground cardamom has to be one of my favourites.
The marinade begins with the juice of one lemon, three crushed garlic cloves and a 2-inch piece ginger, grated.
Dry-fry the spices until you can smell them roasting.
The lemon-garlic-ginger paste is blended with the roasted spices in a big bowl. Add the chicken pieces and a heaping tablespoon of chopped fresh or dried mint. The bad news is I didn’t have any fresh mint around; the good news is, I had some crumbled dried mint still left from my garden stash that still packed a punch — this worked beautifully. The original recipe called for fresh cilantro but I substituted mint for 2 reasons: one, I did not have cilantro in the house either, and two, my son is not a lover of cilantro. Difficult to believe, but true.
Now it was time to lay out all the fixings. I remember the variety of options at the shawarma restaurants and copy them. Hot sauce, pickled mixed vegetables (bought) and olives, tahini, caramelized onions, and hummus. Mixed baby lettuce and pickled turnips (bought) and wedged tomatoes. I buy the best freshly made garlic mayonnaise at the Mid-East Food Centre in Ottawa; always in the fridge for sandwiches. The options are up to you. Buy some, prepare some, it doesn’t matter. Just have a variety for everyone to customize their shawarma sandwich.
The chicken came off the grill. I roasted potato wedges and some mixed vegetables in the oven.
Split over a pita and slather the lower half with your spreads of hummus, tahini, and garlic mayonnaise. Cut the chicken into smaller pieces and pile on all your favourites toppings. Thumbs up all around the table. Makes me happy to make my family happy. Enjoy.
2½ tbsp. lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 inch knob of fresh ginger, finely grated
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
¾ tsp. sweet paprika
1½ tsp. ground cumin
¾ tbsp. sumac
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¾ tsp. ras el hanout
salt and black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped fresh or dried mint
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or chicken breasts, if preferred)
1-2 packages of medium pita
- To make the marinade, combine the lemon juice, garlic and ginger in a large bowl. Dry-fry all the spices (except the mint) on medium heat until their aroma is released and then add these to the bowl, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and ¾ teaspoon of black pepper.
- Pat dry the chicken pieces and place them in the marinade along with the olive oil and the mint. Massage the mixture into the chicken well, cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinade for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
- On a pre-heated barbeque, grill the chicken about 5 minutes a side until cooked through. Depends on the thickness of the pieces; always cut one open slightly and check that there is no pink inside.
- Put out all the fixings you wish and split the pitas open and have fun!