Shawarma platter, Maureen Abood

No matter how much you prepare, you can’t anticipate everything. This is true in most facets of life, and it’s been true on the promotional tour for the Rose Water & Orange Blossoms cookbook.

On my part there’s preparation for what to say, what stories to tell, and what to cook if it’s a demo. But my favorite time of any gathering is when people ask questions. So many interesting questions!

At a recent, beautiful Lebanese dinner and book signing in Minneapolis, my brother Tom asked a great one: who are your influences and inspiration?

It’s such a good thing to think on who it is we admire most and how they’ve helped us, knowingly or not, on our path. I hadn’t spent much time in my preparations for my talks anticipating this question, so here I needed to wing it.

Chicken for Shawarma, Maureen Abood

First thought that came to my mind? Mama. That beautiful, graceful, warm, generous woman that is our mom plays an enormous role in my psyche and all that I do. My hands get choked up here writing about it just like my voice did there that night talking about it.

There are many others of course, the big influencers so many of us culinary devotees turn to. I’m talking the Julia Childs and Jacques Pepins, the Ottolenghis and the Dori Greenspans of our bookshelves, blogospheres, and YouTubes. I can’t imagine a life in the kitchen without them and my whole team of masters who I look to so often.

But there are others who I want to note as well, with the utmost, deep-down profound gratitude. And they are: All of you. You. You. And you.

Shawarma Onions, Maureen Abood

You people influence and inspire me in the most remarkable ways. In your comments here on the blog, and in the many many emails you send me, I am the recipient not only of your abiding encouragement and friendship, but also of your stories about your own Lebanese families or friends and the dishes you’re making or want to make (almost always with a desire to remember a time past, a Sitto or a parent or a childhood of love), and especially your tips and techniques and questions.

You’ve taught me to slide a grape leaf into the pickle jar for crispness, to use ice water for smooth hummus, to add more pine nuts than you might think to the spinach fatayar…and on and on.

What fun it is for me to hear what you’d like to see me share here, recipes for how to brine olives (Wow. I might have to spend some research time in California or Lebanon for that one, right?!), or how to make sesame halva (it’s far from obvious to achieve that crumbly texture in a home kitchen). You’ve asked for sfouf cake (can’t wait; it’s coming!) and how in the world to make chicken shawarma taste good at home.

Shawarma sauce, Maureen Abood

The shawarma is a challenge because it’s traditionally layers of meat (and fat…) that are long-roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved off all hot and juicy and beautifully charred. In my experience—which isn’t extensive given that shawarma isn’t typically made at home, and it’s not one we ate growing up—shawarma isn’t served this way too often even in Lebanese restaurants here, where it’s more like lackluster marinated chicken pieces with no char at all.

Shawarma is meant to be fast food, street food. When I asked my brother (another one) what he ate on a recent 24-hour trip to New York City, he said they couldn’t land a good restaurant at a late hour and ended up eating fantastic shawarma from street vendors. You don’t find that just anywhere, Dick said.

One reader here is so into perfecting authentic homemade shawarma that he bought a small commercial spit. He wrote with pride about his tool, sending a photo and asking for a method, not just a recipe. I felt at a loss to help him with this, but it did get me to thinking how we could enjoy shawarma at home without using the spit most of us don’t have on hand.

Chicken Shawarma, Maureen Abood

The results of the shawarma-quest are more than acceptable; they’re downright delectable. Using the qualities of dark meat to keep everything tender while roasting at high temperatures (you have to work hard to overcook dark meat), I’d say this is as close as one could expect to come to the mouthwatering flavor and texture of spit-fired shawarma at home.

But then you all might just up the ante with more of your good ideas for how to make phenomenal shawarma at home. I hug you for that! And as always, I say: Bring it! And, most especially: Thank you! I love you dearly.

Chicken Shawarma Recipe
My shawarma, which is tenderized and given a boost of flavor with a wonderful marinade, is based on a recipe by Sam Sifton in The New York Times. Go any direction you like with the sauce; mine is a nice balance of cool yogurt and cayenne heat. Serve the shawarma over rice; I love cinnamon-scented vermicelli rice for this. The recipe for the rice is in the Rose Water & Orange Blossoms cookbook….
Serves: 6
  • For the shawarma:
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup yogurt (any fat percentage)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt, chilled
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Olives, cucumbers, pickled turnips, and flatbread or pita bread, for serving
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt, garlic, salt, sumac, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, cover, and marinate for at least one hour and not more than one day.
  2. Heat the oven to 500°F with a rack positioned in the upper third of the oven. Line a sheet pan with parchment or non-stick foil.
  3. Toss the red onion with the chicken in the marinade, then place the chicken and onion evenly on the sheet pan, discarding the marinade. Roast for about 30 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through cooking, until the chicken is nicely crisped around the edges and golden brown. Broil for a few minutes to get the chicken caramelized, if needed.
  4. Immediately slice the chicken into ¼-inch strips, then lay them over a bed of rice.
  5. Make a quick yogurt sauce by whisking the yogurt with cayenne and salt. Adjust seasonings to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the shawarma, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve the shawarma hot, with the roasted onions, olives, pickles, cucumbers, and bread on the side.


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39 Responses to "Chicken Shawarma Recipe"
  1. Alicia says:

    I can’t wait to try this Maureen! Yogurt sauce sounds lovely, but can anyone tell me how to make the very garlicky sauce that is sometimes served alongside at restaurants?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Alicia! You can make classic Lebanese garlic sauce, or toum, from my book as well as a slightly different version here!

  2. Bernadette says:

    Maureen….it was so much fun to meet you…see you cook and listen to your beautiful stories of growing g up in a large lebanese community……continued success with you cookbook..your tour and who knows next??????? The food network in the UP??????? If you ever return to Cook’s of crocus hill in St. Paul I will be there…loved it….Bernadette

  3. Roger Toomey says:

    It’s great to get a recipe that calls for dark chicken meat. It is so much cheaper than breasts. It was on special a while back for 38 cents/pound so I filled the freezer. Yes I’m cheap and proud of it.

    BTW, if you ever get a promotional gig in Kansas City let me know ahead and I’ll try to get off work and drive you around.

  4. Maureen, Congratulations on your stunning booking. Some of my favorite childhood moments were spent around my Grandmother’s table, and your recipes bring those moments — savory on all levels — back to life. Thank you.

  5. mike saleh says:

    I can’t wait to try your chicken recipe shawarma,

  6. I definitely think you need to do some “research” in California for olive brining. Perhaps in Santa Barbara??? 🙂

  7. Anis Salloom says:

    The secret in any Shawarma recipe, be it beef, chicken, or lamb meat, is the spices you use to marinate the meat with. I have tried many store-bought brands of Shawarma Baharat. None of them pleased my appetite.

    A friend of our family who recently visited her family in Lebanon, brought me back half a kilo of authentic Lebanese Shawarma Baharat. It made a huge difference in taste.

    Bite the bullet and order authentic Lebanese Shawarma Baharat. You will not regret it.!.!.!

  8. nancy says:

    would the world come to an end if i made your delicious sounding recipe with chicken breast? i do not eat legs.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Nancy! The breast meat will be more delicate to handle in getting the char-like edges. I would try cutting it into strips and broiling it swiftly rather than roasting the whole breast. Or, you could roast the breast, then cut into thin slices and saute over high heat briefly to get some of that caramelization. Let me know how it goes!

  9. Miriam Fares says:

    I made this as soon as I read the post. It was lovely and I have a very happy family this evening. Thank you!

  10. This is very different from the recipe I use for my shawarma dishes, I definitely try yours 🙂

  11. Asma says:

    This looks so amazing. I know what I’m making tomorrow!

  12. CM says:

    My parents lived in Saudi Arabia while I was growing up and when I was there during summer or Christmas vacations I always looked forward to the weekends. Almost every Thursday we’d go into town and dinner would be shwarmas (three for me, please) from our favorite stand downtown — eaten in the car, still parked on the street, so we could go get more if we needed too. Can’t wait to try your recipe.

  13. Peggy says:

    This recipe was to die for!! Everything about it was wonderful! The chicken was almost like it was charred on a spit. The red onion was fabulous. My mouth is watering now, even though we ate this hours ago. I posted it on Facebook for others to try it. I’ll make this for company, it was that good!

  14. Holly says:

    These look mouth-wateringly delicious! x

  15. Matt says:

    Great article Maureen. I have been able to perfect the shawarma with my spit. The fat melting down the meat gives it a flavor that even roasting or a cast iron skillet can’t beat. But not everyone is crazy as me and buys a spit!

    Your marinade looks great! Can’t wait to use for the next shawarma party.

    If there ever is a signing or gig in Denver we will have to make together! All the best – Matt

  16. Melanie says:

    Hi Maureen – I had not heard of Shawarma until last week when I had a fabulous Shawarma plate at a small deli just south of Seattle. I immediately came home and started searching for recipes and found your blog. I tried it out tonight and it was wonderful! I like your blog very much so I will be back to explore more. Thanks so much!

  17. Theresa says:

    Hi Maureen, my babysitter made this for my family last week and it was wonderful. I brought leftovers in to work throughout the week. I had seen Sam Sifton’s recipe, and had sumac in my spice drawer, and here you have it – what a perfect adaptation! Will definitely go into my weekly recipe rotation. Thank you!

  18. Masha says:

    Hi Maureen, I am long time your reader and first time writer 🙂

    Just HAVE to let you know that this shawarma recipe is fantastic, first time we tried it I made it every day for a week 🙂 I also use this marinade for Chicken Tawook using breast and grilling.

    One question I have for you however, when I back the tights at 500 for the first 15 minutes – lots of juices comes out, that in my opinion prevents the crispiness. chicken almost boiling in the juices. To work around I drain all the juices after approximately 10-14 minutes, and then I will get the crispiness. Do you have any better suggestions ? Thanks

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Masha–thanks so much. Delicious chicken! I like your idea with the juices. Mine evaporated in large measure by 30 minutes in, but it’s smart to pour it off if there is too much, to ensure crispiness.

  19. LaraChick says:

    Made this for dinner tonight with leftovers for lunch tmw. Big hit with the family! So yummy thanks for sharing it!!

  20. Inna says:

    I’ve also combined your recipe with Sam Sifton’s as I like both sumac and cumin and it came out great. I used both: chicken breasts and chicken thighs respectively and we liked the latter much better. The thighs came out jucier and more flavorful.

  21. john fyn says:

    I was looking for a great shawarma recipe and I found your blog. It is explained nicely. I’m going to cook it on this weekend.

  22. April says:

    This is my FAVORITE chicken dish. Thank you for sharing it! It’s been a big hit with my family too and is definitely a great intro to your recipes 🙂

  23. Debra Daniel says:


    Thank you for shawarma recipe, I really really like the way you explained it, Me and my family like shawarma when we ate it in asian restaurant so i’m going to try this one in upcoming weekend where we set together once in a week so this will be amazing can you please tell me if i use persian saffron in it ? this will be perfect or not give me some suggestion


  24. Stacey says:

    Everyone loved this. The yogurt sauce is great. I used a 40 oz. bag of frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joes. Just put the marinade right into the bag in the morning, put in the fridge and cooked that evening. Delicious! And the red onions are perfection.

  25. Susan Potenzano says:

    Winner winner chicken dinner! This is a great recipe! At the last minute, before I put the chicken on the pan I realized I didn’t have enough rice so I cut up some potatoes, tossed them in the marinate and layed it all on the pan as instructed. Everything just roasted fabulously.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      That is wonderful–the potatoes sound so good with this because they would soak up the flavor so well, and roast so well too! Thank you Susan!

  26. Michelle says:

    So glad I chanced upon this recipe, sounds delicious and I want to try it. I have a question about the cinnamon powder. Should I use the regular cinnamon powder we get in the States? Or ground up Cassia Bark as cinnamon that is used in South Asia?
    Thank you.

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