From Israel With Love

 Recently I had the pleasure of being invited to a dinner party hosted by some lovely folks from Israel. Our food was Mediterranean themed and our gracious hosts made such wonderful dishes as falafel, Israeli salad, hummus, roasted chickpeas salad, and chicken shawarma with fresh pita.

Traditionally shawarma refers to meat that has been slow-roasted on a spit rotisserie style. It is often served as a sandwich or wrap with a pita and fattoush salad. Our version has been adapted for home cooks without access to a rotisserie (or hours for slow cooking).

Chicken Shawarma
–1 small sweet white or yellow onion, finely minced
–olive oil
–2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
–garlic, finely minced
–light curry powder
–black pepper

Tip! Peel the onion and slice in half. Using the smallest grade on a cheese grater, grate each half of the onion. Be careful not to slice off chunks of your fingers! Grating the onion in this way gets the onion into small pieces and also keeps the juices which will mix well into your shawarma sauce.

I planted myself in the kitchen while Naor, one of our gracious hosts, showed me how to make his version of the shawarma.

Ours is a fast version that takes about 45 minutes. If you have two hours, you can also cook the shawarma slowly on medium low. Naor informs, “When I am in Israel and we make this it is done over a wood stove.”

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot throw in the onion and 3/4 of the chicken. Move the chicken so that 1/4 of the pan is still open. Pour some olive oil into this hole and add in the minced garlic. Let it saute for a few minutes before stirring together and adding in the rest of the chicken.

“When making shawarma look for the color,” Naor tells me as we begin to add spices to the chicken mixture. First we layer on the paprika, then the curry powder and the cumin.

The water that cooks out of the chicken combines with the onion and garlic juices to form a sauce. As we mix our chicken and spices together I notice there is a lot of water in the pan.

As we continue to cook down, season, and stir this water will evaporate and the liquid will cease to be thin as time goes on.

Naor lets the chicken cook down for a few minutes in between seasoning. He’ll stir and then add a layer of paprika, cumin, and curry powder. Our chicken, which started off pink, is now a lovely golden color. Our sauce which was once quite yellow has transcended to gold and then finally a rich ochre color.

Once Naor is satisfied with the color and the consistency of the caramel-colored sauce, we begin to sneak bites of the chicken to determine whether we should add more seasoning. Finally, after one final seasoning, stir, and cook down session, he declares it ready.

And man, was it ever good!

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