Super Simple Chicken Shawarma in a Bowl

The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent in 1683 AD.
PC: Peter Hermes Furian/Getty Images

Shawarma originated sometime in the 18th or 19th century in the Ottoman Empire. Literally meaning “turning” in Arabic, it is made by staking strips of seasoned meat (beef, lamb, or chicken) on a vertical rotating spit. The meat is slow cooked in its own juices and then shaved off in thin slices to be served within usually some type of bread vessel.  Other names for variances on shawarma include Turkish doner kebab, meaning “rotating grilled meat” and Greece’s gyro, meaning “circle” or “turn” (read about my trip to Turkey here!).  

Meat on a spit: the unifier of cultures.

I didn’t know what I was missing until I fell in love with shawarma the past few years I lived in China, ironically. In Lishui, one of my top go-to street foods from our local Chinese Muslims was an AMAZING roujiamo. The meat was slow-cooked to tender, crispy perfection on a rotating spit, then sliced off and stuffed in your choice of either a wrap or between two steamed buns.

I may not have a rotating vertical meat spit, but I’m excited to share this recipe with you! It’s one of my husband’s favorites. I’ll often double the recipe to make sure to have leftovers for his work lunch – the leftovers are consistently great, too!

Simple Shawarma in a Bowl Recipe

The Ingredients! Minus the olive oil.
  • For the marinade use 1 1/2 Tablespoons each of
    • Cumin
    • Tumeric
    • Paprika
    • Olive Oil
  • 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs (four to six pieces)
  • For the rice
    • 2-3 cups of cooked rice
    • 1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
    • 2 lemons, juiced
    • 1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • Spicy chilies (optional)

How to:

I like to toss the chicken and spices together in a Ziplock bag and give it a little massage to make sure every piece is coated.
  1. Coat your chicken with the olive oil, turmeric, cumin, and paprika. Let marinate over night or up to three days.
It will smell amazing!
Also, be sure to watch your clothes when you cook as the yellow turmeric can stain.

2. *In your favorite pan on medium heat, add the chicken thighs. Let them cook uncovered for about 10 minutes before flipping them to pan fry on the other side. One needn’t add more oil to the pan as there should be enough from the marinade. Cut the thickest part of one thigh to see if it’s cooked through. If still pink, let the chicken cook for another five minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the thighs are ready when it reads 175°F or 79°C. *Try them on the grill for a smokier flavor!

We’ll layer these pieces later on top of the rice.

3. Set the chicken aside on a separate plate or cutting board and cut the meat into strips (I like to use a pair of meat scissors for this). Sprinkle the pieces generously with sea salt and black pepper.

4. For the rice base, peel and chop your red onion. Add your onion pieces into a large mixing bowl, then squeeze the juice from the lemons over the red onions. Give it a little stir, separating some of the larger slices, and let the onions sit in the lemon juice for a few minutes (I like to do this while the meat is cooking).

Soaking the red onion in lemon juice actually takes away the harsh bitterness from the onions!

Keep the stems on, but get rid of the ends. Both the leaves and stems of the cilantro plant hold a lot of flavor!

Combine the onions, lemon juice, cilantro, and rice. Look at those vibrant colors!

5. Rinse your cilantro, slice off the ends, then give it a rough chop.

6. Add the cilantro and rice into your mixing bowl. Combine them well with the red onion and lemon juice mixture. If you decide you want a spicy kick, add slices of your favorite chilies here.

6. Scoop the rice mixture onto a serving dish. Layer the chicken on top and garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Enjoy!

Add more sea salt and ground pepper to taste.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you like this dish. I know that staying inside due to Covid-19 has been rough on everybody. I really miss being able to go out and grab street food or go to my favorite restaurants whenever I want. I find that cooking and trying new recipes has helped me relieve some of the anxiety of not being able to travel. I hope I can also be of some inspiration for you to create memories and have some fun in your kitchen!

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