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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

We don't do many sandwiches, but this one from Cooking Light sounded not only delicious, but easy.  The other thing that drew me to it was the mish-mash of ingredients: chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, yogurt sauce.  Even if my son wouldn't pick up the sandwich to eat it, I was certain he'd pick his way through it and get a healthy meal.

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground coriander
5 tbsp plain low-fat Greek-style yogurt, divided
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, thinly sliced
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
4 (6-inch) pitas, halved
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup prechopped red onion

1.  Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in 1 tbsp yogurt, 1 tbsp juice, and 2 garlic cloves.  Add chicken; toss to coat.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken mixture to pan; saut√© 6 minutes or until browned and done, stirring frequently.

2.  While chicken cooks, combine remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice,  remaining 1 garlic clove, and tahini, stirring well.  Spread 1 1/2 tsp tahini mixture inside each pita half; divide chicken evenly among pita halves.  Fill each pita half with 1 tbsp cucumber, 1 tbsp tomato, and 1 1/2 tsp onion.

The Verdict:  While it's a good sandwich, it's not shawarma.

And how could it be?  Shawarma is meat that's been cooked on a vertical spit for hours and hours at a time.  When you order your sandwich, the meat is shaved off in thin slices.  There's a place that I adore in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Falafel Palace.  I haven't been in years, but I just get moony dreaming of their lamb shawarma, nice and juicy, accompanied with a yogurt sauce and pickles.  They aren't filling your lavash bread with chicken that's been cooked in a pan.

Oh, lavash bread.  If you have access to it and want to make this sandwich, I'd suggest it.  Easier roll up your ingredients rather than stuff it in a pita.

Anyway, for what the sandwich is, it's good.  I browned the chicken meat as directed but would advise against that step.  Cook your chicken until it's done.  Browning, while it makes it more visually like real shawarma, makes the chicken dry. 

To save time (as in, doing what you can during nap time), you can make the sauce ahead of time.  I don't have tahini in the house, so instead I used a tablespoon of almond butter and a teaspoon of sesame oil.  Not quite as good, but it was fine.

I served the sandwiches with grapes.  As I'd predicted, my son picked at his plate.  He first ate the grapes, of course, then went on to the whole wheat pita, then the chicken, then the cucumbers.  So even though he didn't eat the sandwich the way I did (which actually fell apart in my hands, so maybe he took the smarter route), he did eat well. 

It was fun to eat a sandwich instead of the traditional main course.  If you prefer, you can fill your pita/lavash with tabbouleh instead of the salad fixings.  You can also add some pickle slices.  Or you can skip this recipe and go with me to Falafel Palace, where I think I'll be visiting very soon...

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