Karl’s Quick Chicken Shawarma

Wildly adapted from a Delish recipe

Sometimes a recipe comes from a cascade of little events. Today, I bought some soft pita bread for my wife—she has two temporary crowns and her usual pita chips would be too had for her to chew. Later, she decided—since we had pita bread—that what she really wanted for dinner was chicken shawarma. “Real” shawarma is roasted on a vertical spit, which is device that is out of the range of most home cooks. The meat for shawarma is also usually marinated for at least a day. How was I going to satisfy my wife in less than an afternoon?

Karl’s Quick Chicken Shawarma

Karl’s Quick Chicken Shawarma

I looked online for recipes and I decided that Makinze’s recipe was closest to what I was looking for. While I borrowed her flavor profile, I tossed out much of her directions. I ended up with only two hours to marinate my meat—and I had had to spend half of the afternoon to go shopping for several of the ingredients. I also decided that frying would be quicker than baking.

After Dinner Note: While this was a tasty dish—that I will make again—it lacked the signature crusty bits of authentic shawarma.

Karl’s Quick Chicken Shawarma



2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. coriander, ground
1 tsp. cumin, ground

1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper

2 lb. chicken thighs boneless skinless

2 Tbs. butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced, separate uses

Yogurt sauce

½ cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed finely
Pinch Kosher salt
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

For serving

1 cup romaine, chopped into thin ribbons
1 beefsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced
½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
soft pitas, warmed


1. Put the lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl.

2. Grind the coriander and cumin into a fine powder in a spice grinder.

Tip: If using whole pepper corns, grind them as well.

Note: these spices are going to be exposed to direct heat as you fry the chicken. Do not pre-toast these spices before grinding, because they will go on to burn as they cook.

3. Add the garlic powder, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne to the spice grinder and pulse several times to thoroughly blend the spices.

4. Whisk the spices into the lemon juice and olive oil.

5. Dip the whole chicken thighs into the marinade coating all sides of each piece.

Tip: Leave the thighs in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate if marinating more than one hour.

Note: Overnight is better, but I was on a limited time frame.

6. Put the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and whisk them together.

Tip: Set the sauce aside and let it meld for at least half an hour.

7. If refrigerated, remove the bowl of chicken to the counter—to let it come up to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

8. While the chicken is warming, slice the red onion thinly and place about a quarter of it on a plate.

Tip: You will be frying the remaining onion with the chicken in the final cooking step.

9. Slice the Romaine, tomato and cucumber and arrange them on the plate with the raw red onion.

10. Set your oven to 200º F and set your pita breads directly on the oven rack.

Tip: It is a good idea to flip your breads half way through, but you will also be concentrating on you chicken.

11. Over medium high heat, add the last 2 tablespoons of oil—or butter—to a skillet that is large enough to hold all of your chicken thighs without crowding.

12. Pat the chicken thighs with a paper towel—to remove the excess moisture.

Tip: Do not wipe away the herbs and spices.

13. Fry the thighs on both sides until almost cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.

14. Remove the chicken to a plate and scrape loose and spices sticking to the pan.

15. Without cleaning the pan, add the remaining red onions and sauté them for 3-4 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

16. While the onions are cooking, slice the chicken thighs into thin strips.

17. Return the chicken to the pan and toss to mix and finish cooking the chicken.

18. Transfer the chicken to a serving bowl.

19. Serve the shawarma warm with the pita breads, yogurt sauce, and vegetables on the side—to be added as your diners see fit.

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Filed under Chicken, Main Dishes

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