Friday 27 November 2015



Shawarma or shawurma  is an old Levantine meat food prepared on a spit, (shawarma means something that is spin around) it is marinated overnight and slowly cooked on the spit. Served with warm freshly baked Taboon bread, that was prepared in a Tabun (a conical shaped clay oven). It was offered with Toum; a garlic emulsion and Amba; a sweet and tart sauce made from mangoes. It is often served with a sauce made from Tahini, ( a sesame paste) herbs and garlic.

Not much has changed over the centuries except it has spread in popularity from just the region of  Levant, (a group of Eastern Mediterranean region of the world) to across the globe. Shawarma can be found in upscale restaurants, food trucks and stalls as well as Shwarama bars, specific to preparing only shwaramas. It is considered a street food in most regions.

The shawarma sandwich shares the idea with the wrap, roll, kathi, frankie, gyros all similar, yet, each one specifically related to a country of its origin; much like a dialect of a language.

The shwarama however  has not deviated over the centuries It continues to be filled in a pita, flatbread; yufka, bazlama and lavash bread, with Toum or Aioli; a garlic mayonnaise. Besides the meat, the shwarama is also filled with your choice of tomato, cucumber, onions and slaw. Hot chili sauce, hummus, tabouleh, pickled radish and sweet chillies,  baby dill cucumbers and olives are often served on the side. 

Besides the Shwarama being a sandwich it is now often served as a salad too.

While residing in Dubai I had the chance of learning how to prepare toum; besides other wonderful Lebanese cuisine at an International Club cooking demonstration.  I share the recipe here with you all to try it out too.

Beef tenderloin Shawarama in pita pockets
Panfried beef tenderloin Shawarama

While chicken, beef and lamb can be used for a shawarma, here are three recipes to try. One using ready made powders available in supermarkets with slivers of marbled beef. A quick fix for any night of the week.
Lamb is for feeding a crowd and has to be made overnight. It is roasted, rested and then thinly sliced. While the flavours are different, it is delicious when tender and succulent.

Beef Shawarma

Makes 8 sandwiches 

8 Pita Pockets 

900gm/ 2 lb slivered beef or steak which can be prepared and sliced.

Marinade for 4 hours or more

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp Kabsa powder  OR 
1/2 tsp each of clove, corriander, cumin and sumac powders

1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp all spice powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
3 tbsp oil
pinch of salt 
Pinch of brown sugar

Heat a pan and flash fry it without any additional oil. It will take up to 3 minutes.

Lamb Shawarma

Serves 20 

3 kg /6.6 lb boneless leg or shoulder of lamb. Leave the fat on top for best flavour.

12 garlic cloves, peeled and halved

Marinade, a mix of

1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp Sumac
1 tbsp cinnamon 
1 tbsp all spice
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tbsp powdered mix of cloves, black-pepper, cardamom (this garam masala will work )
1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Insert garlic cloves all over and rub it with the marinade. Cover, refrigerate and marinate overnight and cook in a preheated oven 400 F/ 200C for 2 1/2 hours. Remove the meat from the fridge and bring it to room temperature before cooking. Resting the meat on cut onions, covered tightly with foil is the correct way to cook it  to prevent drying it out. Rest for 30 minutes and slice thinly.

Prepare the shawarma by heating the pita, spreading a tablespoon of the toum or any sauce of choice, placing meat shavings, tomato, saute`d  onions, fresh onions and pickled vegetables like dill, turnip, radish, red pepper, green pepper. Roll to wrap and serve.

Chicken Shawarma
This is my daughter Shamineh's concoction from her website Limbudi.

750 gm/1.5 lb chicken thighs - skinless and boneless
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, clove, corriander, cumin and sumac powders
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp thick yogurt
1 tbsp oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Marinate the chicken thighs and stack them upon each other to make a block. Cover this with cling film to keep in place and leave it to rest.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400 F . Unwrap the cling film and place 30 gm of chilled butter on top. Place  this in the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.  You can baste it from time to time. 
Leave it to rest before slicing it though.
Serve warm with all the accompaniments.

Toum -Sauce

3 whole pods of fresh garlic, peeled  150 gm 5 oz

1 1/2 tsp salt
2 oz 1/4 cup chilled cold water
Juice of 1 fresh lemon 1/4 cup - 2 oz
approximately 3 cups light canola or grape seed  or a light olive oil

In a food processor finely chop the garlic and salt, until properly crushed down. Add the water and lemon juice scraping down the sides well.  Leaving the machine pour the oil in a slow stream - very slowly. The mixture of salt and garlic will start emulsifying and turn into a light mayonnaise like texture. The addition of cold water avoids the mayo from splitting.

Spoon and preserve in a jar. Keep refrigerated.

To assemble

Heat the pita pockets and slit them open.

Spoon and spread the toum, and pile it with tomatoes cucumber and thinly sliced salad of your choice. Drizzle hot sauce if preferred. Fill it with warm cooked meat slivers and serve.
Eat immediately. 


Kabsa or Kabseh Spice is an aromatic Arabic spice which has equal amounts of
black pepper, turmeric, coriander, fennel, allspice and cardamom ground together. It also has bay leaf, nutmeg and ginger powder sometimes. It can be found on supermarket shelves.

You may marinate the meat for longer best kept refrigerated covered. Bring to room temperature before cooking. 

Choose coleslaw or lettuce for the filling. 

The modern day Alioli has the addition of egg yolks, mustard and pepper besides the lemon juice. You may also add in different flavours like herbs etc. 

The modern Toum also add iced water, or egg whites depending on the recipe.
Unfortunately it is difficult to make a small quantity of Toum in a food processor. 
However I will shortly be posting my Toum Chicken recipe to help you use up the rest of the toum!

Tzatziki will work just as well if you do not like garlic; It is a mix of yogurt, dill and cucumber.

For more recipes click Niloufer'sKitchen:Spanish Tapas from

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