Showing Off Schawarma


If your neighborhood lacks a schawarma joint, you can still replicate the taste — if not the experience — at home.

Although sushi, pizza and panini have joined the legions of Israeli street food, for many years there were only two options: falafel and schawarma. 

Imported from the gyro (pronounced yee-roh), which evolved from the doner kebab of Turkey, a schawarma is shaved off a big cylinder of lamb or turkey meat cooked on a slowly rotating vertical spit (hence the gyro connection). A generous piece of fat is attached to provide that greasy, meaty taste.

The schawarma-macher saws off strips of the hot cooked meat into a (clean) dust pan and stuffs it into a pita or lafa (flat, bigger pita rolled up), along with the customer’s choice of salads from an enticing array.

My local schawarma joint offers lamb or turkey schawarma, and both are delicious. But if your neighborhood lacks a schawarma joint, don’t be upset. You can replicate the taste, if not the experience, at home.

Schawarma Spice Mixture
Use for other chicken, meat or fish seasoning, too.
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground coriander seed
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 tsps. sweet paprika
1⁄2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and store in a glass container in a cool, dry place.

Schawarma at Home 
1 large onion
2 tsps. canola oil
1 lb. dark turkey meat, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 tsps. schawarma spice mixture (or more, to taste)
chopped cucumbers and tomatoes
French fries (optional: heated frozen are easiest)
4 pita breads (substitute baguette chunks or other rolls)

Chop the onion coarsely. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the turkey and schawarma spice and continue to sauté for 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1⁄2 cup water or more, as needed to prevent burning. Cover, reduce heat, and continue to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until completely cooked, checking frequently.

Split pitas; fill with desired salads and hummus and/or techina and stuff with hot turkey. Serve immediately. 

Serves 4.

Chicken Schawarma
Courtesy of Cafe Mediterranean
Marinade Ingredients:
10 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lemons, juiced
1⁄2 cup olive oil
2 tsps. curry powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. ground pepper
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 pieces pita bread
1 tomato, chopped

To make the marinade: In a me­dium bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice and oil. Add curry powder, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

Add the chicken and coat with marinade. Marinate chicken over­night in the refrigerator.

Preheat a grill to medium heat. Remove the chicken from marinade. Grill chicken for about 10 minutes on each side or until fully cooked through.

Serve chicken on pita and top with to­matoes and Scha­warma Sauce.

Schawarma Sauce
3 cloves garlic
1 cup store-bought tahini
3 cups water
1⁄2 cup lemon juice

Add garlic to the bowl of a food pro­cessor and process until chopped. Add the tahini and pulse to combine. With the machine running, slowly add cold water until frothy.

Add lemon juice and mix until creamy. Sea­son with salt, to taste.

Israeli Salad
Israeli salad stems from the hearty breakfasts that kibbutznikim used to prepare themselves after a hard morning in the fields. Ratios are not set in stone so don’t fret about the weight of your cucumbers or tomatoes.
1 lb. fresh tomatoes (about 3 medium)
1 and 1⁄2 lbs. cucumbers (about 3 medium)
1 red bell pepper
3 scallions
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
finely chopped mint, cilantro and/or parsley leaves (optional)

Cut cucumbers, tomatoes and bell pepper into 1⁄4-inch dice or smaller. (Pur­ists do this without the aid of a cutting board!). Season with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper and optional herbs. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Tomato and Coriander Salad 
6 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled if desired
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 small hot chile pepper (red or green) seeded and finely chopped
4 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1⁄4 cup olive oil

Thinly slice tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with ci­lantro.

Mix chile pepper with lemon juice and salt in a small bowl.

Beat olive oil into chile pepper-lemon juice mixture. Pour over tomatoes and coriander. Cover and chill before serving. 

Serves 6.

Rivka Tal is a former Minne­sotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 46 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at:


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