How to get that shwarma flavor on home-made chicken

Some know it as shwarma, others gyros or doner kebab, but while the names for the dish vary, it’s a favorite around the world.

Basically shwarma is slices of marinated lamb, beef, veal, turkey or chicken stacked on top of each other and slowly spit-roasted on a vertical grill. Each portion is sliced off to order, which means every serving is a mixture of crisp edges as well as succulent meat.

Making shwarma at home never really appealed to me because it is hard to duplicate its unique textures, but then I tried the seasonings on whole, roast chicken. Serve Shwarma Flavor Roast Chicken, with its crisp skin and tender, juicy meat, with flatbreads and Rice Pilaf and Chopped Salad. Serve the salad as a side dish or as a topping for the pilaf.

Shwarma Flavor Roast Chicken

Serves 4-6

  • Spice Rub (see below)
  • 4-6 lb. roasting chicken
  • ¼ cup chicken stock or water
  • Olive oil for basting

Make spice rub. Clean chicken. Truss if desired. Stir spice mix well, then rub all over outside and inside of chicken. Let rest, covered, for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place chicken on rack in roasting pan breast side up. Pour stock in bottom. Roast until done (or when instant thermometer in thigh registers 185 degrees). Baste every 20-30 minutes with pan juices (or oil if drippings are insufficient). Timing will vary, about 25 minutes a pound. Let rest covered with foil for 10 minutes before carving.

Spice Rub: Combine 1 Tbs. minced garlic, ¼ tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. ground cumin, 1/8 tsp. ground allspice, ¼ tsp. ground cardamom, ¼ tsp. ground turmeric, 1/8 tsp. crumbled dried oregano, ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼-½ tsp. cayenne (optional), 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1 tsp. minced lemon zest or ¼ tsp. ground sumac. Mix well. Stir in 2 Tbs. lemon juice and 3 Tbs. olive oil until well blended.

Note: If substituting packaged shwarma spice mix, use 3 Tbs., adding 1 tsp. minced garlic, 2 Tbs. lemon juice and 3 Tbs. olive oil.

Rice Pilaf

Serves 6-8

  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped red or yellow bell pepper (¼-inch pieces)
  • 2 cups chopped eggplant (¼-inch pieces)
  • 2 cups white rice, uncooked
  • About 4 cups warm vegetable or chicken broth, or as needed
  • ¼ tsp. salt or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
  • Chopped Salad (see below), optional

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a large, deep sauté or fry pan over medium high heat. Sauté onions until lightly colored. Sauté garlic until golden. Sauté peppers until beginning to soften. Add 1 Tbs. oil. When sizzling, add eggplant. Sauté eggplant until browned. Add rice. Stir well. Sauté 1 minute, then add 2 cups broth. Bring to and keep at a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until broth is absorbed. Repeat with third cup. Check to see if rice is tender with a little resistance in center (al dente). If rice is not ready, add fourth cup, simmering until absorbed. If needed, add ¼ cup more stock and simmer, repeating as necessary. Taste and add salt and pepper. Top with Chopped Salad if desired.

Chopped Salad: Toss together 2 cups chopped red onion, 2 cups chopped tomato (I like to use a mix of colors), 2 Tbs. chopped parsley, ½ tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. ground pepper, 1 tsp. minced lemon zest or ¼ tsp. ground sumac, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. olive oil. Taste. Adjust seasonings.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].