This homemade chicken shawarma recipe is always on the list of my top signature recipes we’re most proud of. It’s super aromatic, full of exotic spices, and when wrapped in pita bread, it’s simply perfect.
What is Shawarma?
Shawarma is a common name for dishes that have thin slices of shaved meat, such as beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, or veal.
It’s often served with pita bread, lots of vegetables, and a sauce of choice.
One reason it became famous is thanks to the cool rotating vertical spit. Layers of meat are grilled slowly and evenly, then shaved off.
The meat we use in today’s recipe is chicken. Either chicken breasts or thighs are fine, but thighs are juicier and that’s what we’re going with.
It’s a shame that we don’t own a revolving spit, so couldn’t do it the traditional way. But on the bright side, we can bake them in the oven and that’s more convenient for you too!
Is Chicken Shawarma Healthy?
This chicken shawarma recipe corresponds with our healthy eating guidelines, based on the USDA’s guidelines and approved by prestigious nutritionists.
First, it yields around 497 calories, about 60% of which come from the chicken meat and healthy fats.
Also, the amount of saturated fat is moderate— 5 grams, less than 22% of what’s recommended every day. Its effects on our bodies are yet to be confirmed, so meanwhile, we’re keeping an eye on it.
And since overconsumption of sodium is linked to high blood pressure, we don’t add lots of salt to the seasoning mix. The sodium is thus kept at around 600 milligrams per serving.
Besides all that, our chicken shawarma offers a vast amount of vitamins B, C and A, and minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, etc.
Let’s have a look at what our chicken shawarma recipe calls for:
The only cut we find appropriate is the thigh. It’s juicier, more tender than the breast, and definitely more convenient than the leg and wing.
If you decide to use chicken breast because it’s more packed with protein, do expect drier meat. Chicken thigh may have less protein, but it’s not too little, and has amazing flavor.
With that said, we recommend this oven baked chicken breast recipe if you want to have chicken breast for dinner.
2. Shawarma Seasoning
The soul of authentic homemade chicken shawarma lies in the spices. The basic shawarma marinade includes cumin, turmeric powder, ground coriander, garlic, and paprika.
In this chicken shawarma recipe, we also add a dash of lemon juice to make the meat more tender and aromatic.
3. Pita Bread
This yeast-leavened, round, flatbread is a popular carbohydrate source in Middle Eastern cuisine. Needless to say, it is a must for chicken shawarma.
You can either get store-bought or make the bread yourself, depending on your preference. We prefer homemade foods, but to skip the hassle, we chose to buy pita bread locally instead.
There are lots of brands and many of them are full of sodium, which we try to regulate. After lots of searching we picked out a lower-sodium option, mentioned in the recipe card.
If you can’t get the one we recommend, you can try using less salt to season the chicken.
Crisp cucumber, fresh lettuce, and tomatoes add both freshness and plenty of nutrients to this protein-dense meal.
To serve, treat them as you would in tacos: chop them into bite-sized pieces. We chopped the lettuce finely, sliced the cucumber thinly, and quartered the cherry tomatoes.
To add a creamy twist, we also use avocado in this recipe. It mellows out the intense flavor of the seasonings and most importantly, gives us lots of healthy fats.
Chicken Shawarma Sauce
As juicy as the chicken is, the shawarma wrap will turn out tastier with a complementing sauce.
1. Tahini Sauce
Tahini is a condiment made of toasted sesame seeds, finely blended with oil until they become a thick paste. It is seen as a unique part of Middle Eastern cuisine, included in many dishes.
To prepare the sauce, toast and blend the seeds, then simply add lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper to the paste and stir. If it’s too thick, continue to add lemon juice until it reaches a sauce-like consistency.
You should end up with a tangy, creamy, fragrant sauce.
2. Garlic Sauce
Also a staple of the cuisine, garlic sauce is really straightforward— a blend of garlic, salt, lemon juice, and oil. It’s recommended you use a neutral oil, so the flavor of the sauce won’t be too intense.
The sauce begins with chopping garlic finely using a strong food processor. Then, add half of the oil in slowly (like how you would when making mayonnaise) to gradually emulsify the sauce.
Finally, add lemon juice in (slowly) along with the rest of the oil, and season to taste.
3. White Sauce
Not to be confused with the Italian Béchamel sauce, this white sauce includes Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and seasonings. We used this in our recipe because it’s easy to make and requires simple ingredients.
To make the white sauce, chop the garlic finely and mix it with the other ingredients.
How to Make Chicken Shawarma
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Step 1: Marinate the chicken
Marinate the chicken with 5 tsp garlic, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, and the rest of the spices for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Prepare the sauce
Make the sauce by mixing Greek yogurt, 1.5 tbsp olive oil, 3 tsp garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Refrigerate until needed.
Step 3: Prep the vegetables
Chop lettuce finely. Half cucumbers and then slice thinly. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters.
Step 3: Sear the chicken
In a preheated cast-iron skillet, sear the marinated chicken over medium heat, 2.5 minutes on each side. Mix onion in with the rest of the marinade.
Step 4: Cook the onion
Turn off the stove, take the chicken out and cook the onions with the marinade using only the residual heat in the pan, about 1 minute.
Step 5: Finish cooking in the oven
Place the chicken back on top of the onions and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
Step 6: Serve
When it’s done, cut the chicken up and assemble it on pita bread to serve.
Tips for Making Juicy, Tender Meat
If not handled properly, chicken meat can become dry and tough instead of heavenly tender.
The secret is lemon. The lemon juice in the marinade contains acid that tenderizes the chicken meat and also makes it juicier.
And, never cut the meat before cooking. It may absorb flavor faster and cook faster that way, but the meat juice will evaporate more quickly as well, leaving you with dry chicken.
Calories in Chicken Shawarma
As mentioned before, our chicken shawarma recipe yields 500 calories per serving. Since most of the calories are from proteins and healthy fats, we want a side filled with healthy carbs.
To turn it into a 750-calorie meal and meet the health guideline criteria, we chose hummus. It’s a creamy, aromatic dip made of chickpeas, garlic, oil, lemon juice, and seasonings.
What to Serve with Chicken Shawarma
As a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, chicken shawarma should always be accompanied by a side of hummus. It’s traditional to put hummus inside the pita bread and put the chicken on top.
But since there’s yogurt sauce for that, we cut up some celery and carrot sticks and served them with hummus, also upping the veg content.
Healthy Chicken Shawarma Recipe
- 12 oz skinless boneless chicken thighs
- 10 oz onions sliced
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cayenne powder
- 1/2 tsp table salt
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3.5 tbsp olive oil divided into 1, 1 and 1.5
- 8 tsp garlic minced (divided into 5 and 3)
- 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 3.5 oz Romaine lettuce sliced
- 3.5 oz cherry tomatoes quartered
- 3.5 oz avocadoes sliced
- 4 oz cucumbers chopped
- 4 pita breads
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- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Marinate the chicken with 5 tsp garlic, 1 tbsp olive oil, 6 tsp lemon juice, and the rest of the spices for 30 minutes.
- Make the sauce by mixing Greek yogurt, 1.5 tbsp olive oil, 3 tsp garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Refrigerate until needed.
- Chop lettuce finely. Half cucumbers and then slice thinly. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters.
- In a preheated cast-iron skillet, sear the marinated chicken over medium heat, 2.5 minutes on each side. Mix onions in with the rest of the marinade.
- Turn off the stove, take the chicken out and cook the onions with the marinade using only the residual heat in the pan, about 1 minute.
- Place the chicken back on top of the onions and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
- When it’s done, cut the chicken up and assemble it on pita bread to serve.
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FAQ about Chicken Shawarma
1. What Is the Difference between a Gyro and Shawarma?
To anyone who has tried a chicken gyro and shawarma, it is easy to spot similarities. Mixing up the two is common if you don’t pay close attention.
Both are a type of doner kebab— serving shaved meat, from a large turning meat cone, in pocket bread.
The difference is in the topping choices.
Traditionally, gyros are more commonly made of pork rather than chicken, lamb or beef. It’s wrapped in pita bread and has tzatziki sauce drizzled in.
Meanwhile, shawarma can be made of all sorts of meat, and calls for a whole range of toppings.
2. How Long Does Chicken Shawarma Last?
Cooked chicken shawarma can be stored in the fridge for up to two days.
Of course, keeping the thighs whole before sliding them into the fridge allows them to retain more moisture.
Also, you may want to refrigerate the vegetables and sauce in separate containers. If you cut up the avocados, use them straight away because they will turn brown after several hours.
3. Can You Freeze Chicken Shawarma?
Although reheated chicken isn’t as juicy as freshly-cooked, you can place them in Ziploc bags and freeze for longer use.
Instead of freezing cooked chicken, you can marinate a big batch, freeze half of it and use half of it. The longer it sits, the more flavor it has, so it’s a win-win situation.
However, if your chicken was frozen when you bought it and you let it thaw, do not refreeze it raw.