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A recipe for chicken shawarma with sweet onions and red peppers

Shawarma is a Middle Eastern meat preparation originally made with lamb.

My adventurous taste for flavors and spices from around the world brings this oven-roasted chicken shawarma to you today.

Shawarma, pronounced “shuh-wor-muh,” is much like a Greek gyro or Turkish kebab — lots of lemon, garlic and exotic spices with just whispers of cinnamon and allspice. Shawarma is a Middle Eastern meat preparation based on the doner kebab of Ottoman Turkey, originally made with lamb.

Shawarma is made by alternately stacking strips of fat and pieces of seasoned meat (usually lamb) on a vertical spit. An onion, a tomato or a halved lemon is sometimes placed at the top. The meat is roasted slowly for hours on all sides as the spit rotates over a flame. The meat is shaved off the stack with a large knife. Today, shawarma is a staple street food in the Middle East. It has also become a popular dish in the United States, eaten as a sandwich wrap on pita bread.

Most people don’t have a vertical spit, so the challenge of creating this dish at home is capturing the essence of shawarma. I do that by first marinating the meat in a kicked-up spice mix and then simply roasting it in the oven. I have delicious memories from Astoria, Queens, when I experienced my first taste of Greek gyros. The diverse New York neighborhood I lived in was scattered with Greek restaurants, lamb turning on a spit in the front windows. The smell as you walked by was intoxicating. They served the sliced meat on a pita bread with a tangy yogurt sauce drizzled on top.

Serve this chicken shawarma over basmati rice or as a sandwich on toasted naan or pita bread slathered with yogurt sauce. Add crumbled feta, sliced basil and minced parsley if you like. My favorite sides with this dish are sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes tossed with lemon and parsley. You could also thinly slice peeled eggplant, lightly dust it in flour and add a sprinkle of shawarma spice mix, and then fry it in just a few tablespoons of canola oil to a golden brown.

The spice mix makes about 1 cup. Shawarma seasoning makes an excellent spice rub for grilled meat or fish. In this recipe, I mix it with extra-virgin olive oil before marinating. Store the extra spice mix in a tightly covered glass jar for future recipes. Just a sprinkle will open a new world of flavor.

Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at

Chicken Shawarma With Sweet Onions and Red Peppers

Chicken Shawarma with Sweet Onions and Red Pepper [ LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI | Special to the Times ]

For the spice mix:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

4 teaspoons ground cumin

4 teaspoons ground sweet paprika

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

Pinch ground red pepper or flakes, or more if you like heat

For the marinade:

2 lemons, juice and zest

¼ cup good olive oil, plus more for the pan

6 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons spice mix, see recipe above

2 to 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices

1 large red, orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into ½-inch slices

¼ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley

For the yogurt sauce:

½ cup plain Greek yogurt, full fat or 2 percent

½ cup mayonnaise, full fat or low fat

1 lemon, juice and zest

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and pepper, to taste

Make the spice mix: Blend all the spices together and store in a jar with a tight-fitting cover. Makes about 1 cup.

Make the marinade: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, garlic and 2 tablespoons spice mix. Add the cut-up chicken and this marinade mixture to a large zip-top bag. Massage the marinade into the chicken, then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed half sheet pan with foil, drizzle with olive oil. Add the sliced onion and red pepper to the bag of marinated chicken and massage to coat. Add all the contents of the bag, with the marinade sauce, onto the pan and arrange in an even layer. Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, turning the chicken a few times until the onions and peppers are crisp and the chicken is cooked through.

Change the oven setting to broil at 450 degrees. Brown the chicken for about 5 minutes or just until everything is nicely caramelized and browned. Let the chicken rest about 15 minutes and then sprinkle with the chopped Italian parsley.

Make the yogurt sauce: Stir all the ingredients together. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski