If 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!
2-3 pounds of chicken thighs and/or breasts, lamb shoulder, or beef chuck
2 onions, cut into slices
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.
Parsley, roughly chopped
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.
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.
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.
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.