Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Nov

Shawarma Salad

shawarma2If only all fast food was as delicious as shawarma, a Middle Eastern sandwich eaten on the go that’s made from slow-roasted meat and fresh vegetables wrapped in pita bread. This traditional street food tastes a million times better than any Big Mac ever could, but the best part about shawarma is that you can ditch the pita bread and turn the sandwich into a salad that’s just as satisfying.

Yes, a salad is harder to eat on the go, but this shawarma salad is so good you’re going to want to sit down and savor it anyway. The main ingredient is meat and you can pick from chicken, beef, lamb, or if you’re feeling adventurous, even goat. A blend of highly flavorful (but not in a spicy way) spices are what make the meat in this salad stand out. No two shawarma stands use exactly the same blend of seasonings in their marinade, but a combination of allspice, cumin, paprika, black pepper and coriander will get you pretty close to meat that tastes like a the real thing. What’s harder to replicate is the juicy, fatty, slightly crispy texture of shawarma meat, but grilling does a fine job in a pinch.

Traditionally, shawarma meat is cooked by layering many chunks of marinated meat on a vertical skewer that rotates in front of a flame. Pieces of fat are often added to the skewer to drip onto the meat, adding flavor and keeping the meat moist and succulent. As the meat cooks, very thin layers are shaved off and put into sandwiches, slowly whittling away at the giant chunk of rotating meat. Unless you happen to have a rotating vertical skewer at home, grilling over the open flame of a grill is the next best thing. A good, long soak in marinade will help keep the meat moist and tender on the inside, while the outside gets a little crispy.

Shawarma made at home and put into a salad bowl doesn’t taste exactly the same as shawarma wrapped in pita bread from a street stand. There’s no question though, that a shawarma salad is delicious in its own way. No two shawarma marinades are the same so try the flavorful blend of spices below, then by all means, share your own recipe!

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

ingredients 26

  • 2-3 pounds of chicken thighs and/or breasts, lamb shoulder, or beef chuck
  • 2 onions, cut into slices

Marinade:

marinade

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

If using chicken (especially breasts) you can also add 1/4 cup of plain full-fat yogurt to the marinade. This will tenderize the meat and make sure it’s moist.

Salad:

  • Mixed greens
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Parsley, roughly chopped

Dressing:

Shawarma is usually slathered in hummus or tahini, but a simple squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil is all you really need for this salad. If you want to try tahini dressing, whisk together 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste), the juice of 1-2 lemons, and a few crushed garlic cloves. Whisk water into the dressing until it reaches desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

Instructions:

The meat can be left whole, which is more convenient, or cut into smaller pieces or thin slices that will soak up more flavor from the marinade. Make sure the slices are big enough to place on the grill without falling through.

Put the meat and onions in the same dish and rub all over with the marinade.

meat marinating

Refrigerate 4 to 8 hours.

Remove the meat from refrigeration a half hour before cooking and heat the grill to high. Grill over flames for 4-6 minutes, watching carefully, so that the outside becomes nicely browned and a bit crispy. Turn the heat to medium and continue to cook the meat with the grill lid on until it is cooked through.

grilling meat

Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest. Grill the onion slices until tender, about 4 minutes per side.

Slice the meat as thinly as you can. Add sea salt to taste if needed. Toss with chopped parsley then combine in a bowl with greens, cucumber and tomatoes. Top with lemon and olive oil.

shawarma2

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. That sounds really tasty. I think some olives would be a great addition to the salad version. Yum!

    j3nn wrote on November 12th, 2011
  2. Mmmmmm … thinking of ways to modify this process to fit my NYC existence (i.e. no grill). I think marinating and then roasting in the oven will work just fine – then pulling the meat off the bone (I’m going to use chicken) and stuffing into romaine leaves for a sandwich-like pick up. Can’t wait to try this – always a pleasure to discover new ways to combine flavors :-)

    Susan Alexander wrote on November 12th, 2011
    • I was thinking the same thing – city townhomes tend not to condone grilling – but to get that crispy outside you’d have to pan-sear it before roasting.

      Mary E. Clark wrote on November 12th, 2011
      • You posted this a while ago so I don’t know if you’ll see it, but you can get the crispy bits by pan-searing AFTER roasting. Just don’t roast it completely before searing. Searing after results in less fluid loss (there already isn’t much on the surface for the proteins to squeeze out) and you can eat it immediately so it doesn’t sit in the oven getting less crispy.

        Joshua wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • You could just go to any of the great street venders!!!! Love the ones in Queens, NY :)

      Amanda wrote on November 13th, 2011
    • An indoor grill is my favourite condo tool! I have a George Forman grill – and can grill all year long.

      diane wrote on December 10th, 2011
      • Exactly what I was thinking. Getting ingredients TODAY. I need to freshen up my spices though, as some have been in my cupboard for donkey’s ears.

        janet wrote on December 12th, 2011
  3. Mmmmm. That sounds just like what I know as doner kebab. I discovered it in Italy. The shops are tucked in between pizzerias, but it’s so much more delicious than pizza. There’s a big skewer with a leg of lamb on it and they just shave off pieces and throw them in a pita with whatever you want. Including some red sauce that I thought was ketchup and turned out to be liquid fire. But still, oh-so-good.

    Sheila wrote on November 12th, 2011
    • I was going to say the same thing! When I lived in Rome there was this little middle eastern place just off Campo die Fiori that served “kebab” – they sliced the meat off a rotating vertical skewer and it was just like what Mark describes. When I think about going back, it’s the kebab I always think of eating again more than the pizza or other street food :-)

      Audry wrote on November 12th, 2011
  4. This is so tasty. I used to eat home made kebab and shawarma during Sunday lunches at one of my friends.

    Paul Alexander wrote on November 12th, 2011
  5. FYI: some Shawarma stands use wheat flour to hold the meat together. I discovered this the hard way a few months ago. Be sure to ask.

    Jennifer wrote on November 12th, 2011
  6. What, no Pork? Kidding, I do love a good shawarma though.

    DTC wrote on November 12th, 2011
  7. Where do you buy goat meat? My local Mexican food mart sells conventional animals tip to tail but I’ve never seen a butchered billy goat gruff.

    Mary E. Clark wrote on November 12th, 2011
  8. shawarma is the bomb!!!

    jason wrote on November 12th, 2011
  9. This is called kebab meat in Australia. And we have a kebab shop around every corner… They probably outnumber McDonalds.

    I was wondering if getting it from the shop is generally primal? Or if they do something unprimal to the meat? Do they use PUFAs or anything?

    SophieE wrote on November 12th, 2011
    • The meat itself I generally wouldn’t worry about, although if they use a marinade it will probably contain some safflower or other high PUFA vegetable oil (instead of olive). Most shops are going to be using packaged dressing in the kebab which is most likely terrible.

      Pandadude wrote on November 13th, 2011
  10. A very simple recipe I use for my grass-fed ground beef. 1 lb ground beef, 1 bunch parsley, 1 onion, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 tspn salt, 3 tablespoons tomato sauce, 1 clove garlic. cook onion first and then add other ingredients and cook until beef is done. Serve as mentioned above.

    Michael wrote on November 12th, 2011
  11. Yum!

    Primal Toad wrote on November 13th, 2011
  12. I just bought some chicken breasts so decided to try this recipe. I made a few changes. I added the zest of the lemon and increased the garlic from 3 cloves to 5-6 cloves. I also added a level tsp of brown sugar. Later, during grilling I concluded that adding a little cinnamon might have been a good thing. Also, I increased the yogurt to 1/2-2/3 cup. The salad was made of spinach leaves, onion, wedges of roma tomatoes and coarsely chopped cucumber.

    The result was awesome. Well done Worker Bees!

    I think I will use the marinade (minus the yogurt) for a Once a Month Cooking (OMAC) marinade for the rest of the chicken.

    azsundevil wrote on November 13th, 2011
  13. Just today I picked up some chicken shawarma (meat only) from my local middle-eastern restaurant to use for salads at home.

    I live near Dearborn, Michigan (home to the largest middle-eastern population in the U.S.) and every middle-eastern food place here serves this fabulous garlic sauce with shawarma. It looks like mayonnaise, or whipped garlic butter. I’ve been told by 2 restaurant owners all that’s in it is raw garlic, egg whites, and olive oil (maybe salt, too,–I can’t remember). The restaurant owner said mixing the oil in is tricky (probably like making homemade mayo). I always buy the sauce but would like to try and make it if I had an official, tried & true recipe. Any Worker Bees interested???

    Ellen wrote on November 13th, 2011
    • I WISH. Let me know if you figure this mystery out because I can eat that stuff with a spoon.

      I also live near Dearborn…from there, actually. :)

      Angela wrote on January 11th, 2012
  14. As an Israeli, I feel entitled to an educated opinion on Shawarma and its production:

    First – I wouldn’t use chicken breasts, as the’yre not fatty enough and will dry out. If you must use chicken, use thighs. You can also use turkey.

    Second – You didn’t talk about dressing! Around these parts, the most popular is tahini, made from ground sesame seeds. Another great addition is amba, which is a sort of pickled mango, originally an Indian sauce.

    Oh, and for those who mentioned doner kebab – it’s similar but not the same. Doner kebab is the Turkish version, and they mince the meat before putting it on the skewer. They also like to use yogurt dressing.

    Lastly – if you’re into middle eastern street foods, you can also make this kind of salad with what we call “Jerusalem mix” around here. Saute chicken spleens, livers and hearts with some onion and hot peppers, and season with paprika and cumin.

    Yonatan wrote on November 14th, 2011
    • That “Jerusalem mix” sounds fantastic! Just sayin’.

      Deanna wrote on November 14th, 2011
  15. What would you recommend as a vegetarian alternate, tempeh ??

    Marta wrote on November 14th, 2011
  16. Good timing — I was just pondering what I was going to make for lunches this week, and this salad fits the bill! Mmmm…

    Deanna wrote on November 14th, 2011
  17. mmm…what a post! havent had shawarma in ages….best food on the planet hands down! ive tried shawarma in numerous countries but i have to say, nothing ever compared to the shawarma i had in Saudi Arabia….i ended up having 4 in one sitting! and i wasnt even hungry to begin with! served with freshly made guava juice…mmm, heaven…though i cant understand why on earth u’d skip the tahini, its a key ingredient and really makes the dish. thx for this post, i know what im making tomorrow. :)

    S wrote on November 19th, 2011
  18. Beef shawarma is one of my all-time favorite foods – and I happen to live above a Lebanese shawarma shop that is happy to give me extra meat in place of rice/lentils :)

    Someone asked about the garlic sauce, and I do have a recipe. It’s called ‘toum’, and yes it’s basically a garlic mayo, without egg yolks. It. is. fabulous.

    Ingredients:
    5 garlic cloves
    1 egg white
    1 cup of light olive oil (not strong tasting)
    juice of 1 lemon
    a good pinch of salt
    1 cup of iced water of which you will use around 2 tbsp

    Put the garlic cloves, salt and 1/4 of the lemon juice in blender (or use a stick blender). Add the egg white and blend.

    Start adding half the oil in, in a steady stream. It should start emulsifying.

    Add the rest of the lemon juice slowly, then the rest of the oil.

    Add 1 or 2 tbsp of water and watch it change into a light, fluffy sauce! Stop blending, and eat copiously. This is also really good on burger patties… almost anything you like garlic with.

    Tracy wrote on December 7th, 2011
    • Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I am obsessed with this garlic sauce! Can’t wait to make it at home!

      Teachingscribe wrote on January 24th, 2012
  19. For those in NYC, Bereket on East Houston & Orchard makes a bitchin’ doner/shawarma sandwich. They are super cool about dumping all the ingredients on a bed of fresh lettuce on waxed paper.

    Lilly wrote on December 12th, 2011
  20. OMG this shawarma came out AMAZING!! I didn’t have anything for salad so I just ate a bowl of chicken. I’ve found a new emergency protein/all around deliciousness!

    Rebecca wrote on January 1st, 2012
  21. made this with 3 pounds of chicken thighs along with a lovely collection of greens. (almost) embarassed to say the two of us finished in all off in one meal. of course, wasn’t hungry for 2 days, but geez 1.5 pounds of meat in one sitting????? intermittent fasting, here we come!

    Mary Anne wrote on February 14th, 2012
  22. I grew up around Dearborn, MI as well and love Middle Eastern food, but it’s sadly tough to find in my new home of Seattle. I’ve turned to making a lot of these dishes myself since the few restaurants that have variations on them are usually off the mark from what I could get in Dearborn. One thing I hadn’t seen anyone mention is Sumac dressing for the salad. It’s equal parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil and fresh Lemon Juice (usually 1/4 cup of each), 1 TSP Kosher Salt, 3 TBS Ground Sumac, and 1 Minced Garlic Clove (optional). Paired with the chicken and a salad with romaine, cucumber, tomato, red and green peppers, green onion, and a little thinly sliced red cabbage is absolutely delicious. If I could find a paleo substitute for Pita Bread, it would be perfect.

    Joe wrote on October 18th, 2012
  23. Can you please include some nutritional info with these recipes (like total calories, carbs, fat and protein)? I dont really count calories strictly, but it would be really helpful to know these things. :)

    Minah wrote on August 13th, 2013
  24. I made this salad. Added three heaping TBL of tahini and a cup of yogurt to the boneless chicken breasts. DELISH! Thank you for this recipe. If you have facebook, you can see it here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10100217832204726&set=pcb.1411559122390444&type=1&theater

    JoyofMacs wrote on August 24th, 2013

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