I first experienced a Shawarma on a visit to Leeds to see my brother and sister (in law). That phrase ‘in law’ kind of implies that she wouldn’t be my sister if she hadn’t married my brother, but in fact that’s not true. We were more or less sisters from the moment we met – sisters from different misters, if you will. Anyway, they live in Leeds, and Miss J, the G man and I take trips down there to visit with them a few times a year, usually. These visits tend to be punctuated with takeaway food among the afternoon crossword sessions, beers, late night philosophy and early morning tea drinking. On this particular night, Bizzle (that’s my brother), Miss L (that’s my in different mister sister), the G man and I were on our way to a gig, and needed a dinner we could eat on the hoof. It was dark, and cold. There was a spooky park ahead of us if we were going to make it to the show in good time. We needed something to see us through all this. Miss L suggested hitting a Turkish takeaway which had been recommended to her for this exotic (to us) snack of shawarma.
We had a bit of a look at the menu, and went for some different options – lamb and chicken shawarmas and a falafel wrap. Mine was chicken shawarma, and by Jove, it was a revelation. The mix of houmous, garlic sauce, pickled something or other and hot, tender chicken saw me through that spooky park with barely a twitch. Everyone else seemed similarly pleased, and it was a motley crew of people with garlicky breath and sauce-coated hands (and, in one case,trousers marred with frozen lamb fat) who arrived at the venue that night. It was one of those great food discovery moments. I’d never even heard of a shawarma until that night. It suddenly became clear to me that it was a tragic life I’d been leading, indeed.
I decided recently I was going to try and recreate this. I did my usual thing of looking up a few recipes and making a combination of them all, though this chicken shawarma recipe was my main influence. I had to substitute pickled red cabbage for the more common (I think) pickled turnip. My other readily available options were pickled beetroot, gherkins or the poorly named ‘mixed pickle’ which is, in my experience, mainly onions with a bit of cauliflower and sometimes a carrot slice. It’s not much of a mix, to my way of thinking. Oh, and there’s pickled eggs. In my opinion, these are never an option for anything, ever. Ever. I really like pickled cabbage, both in taste, texture and colour, and I thought it would be the best match for the other flavours in my shawarma.
I started by marinating three skinless chicken thighs as follows:
- 2 tbsp plain yogurt
- seeds from 2 cardamom pods
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 2 turns of a salt mill
- 4 turns of a pepper mill
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
I only marinated them for about two hours, longer would have been better, and then roasted them for 30 minutes at 200c. I set them aside to cool while I got on with all the other bits and pieces. Here are the ingredients for two other components. For the houmous and garlic sauce, I used roasted garlic instead of raw because it has a much mellower, sweeter taste and doesn’t linger so much in the mouth. I wanted the shawarma to be garlicky, yes, but not sharp or almost spicy, the way that raw garlic can be.
- 200g tinned chickpeas
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp plain yogurt
- 2 pinches of salt
- 4 turns of pepper
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp black sesame seeds
- 2 tsp roasted garlic
- oh, I didn’t write this down…
- plain yogurt
- enough roasted garlic to taste nice
- maybe a pinch of salt?
- red onion, thinly sliced
- pickled red cabbage, drained
- cucumber, thinly sliced
- parsley, roughly chopped
- mediterranean style herb wraps (or other wraps, as you like)
Now it’s just a matter of assembly! I called the post skinny shawarmas because the amounts I used weren’t enough to make good, hearty wraps, but two slimmer ones which were adequate if not greed-satisfying. I microwaved the wraps (you can, of course, heat them in a frying pan or in the oven instead). I then layered the houmous, cucumber, red onion, chicken, garlic sauce and parsley, then rolled up ready to eat.
I will admit to stuffing the end of this a bit after it was wrapped, to make it look more full than it really was. I would encourage anyone trying these to either use smaller wraps or to really go for it and fill the wraps right up for a more satisfying shawarma experience.
These didn’t meet the level of delight that my first shawarma did, but then no home-made food will ever meet the standards of takeaway food eaten on a cold night. I will say that it was pretty close, and I’m looking forward to making these again.
PS I can never decide how to spell houmous. I’ve gone with hou-mouse in this post. I’ve probably used variations in other posts. I’m unpredictable like that.