Arabic Chicken Shawarma – A Succinct Guide to Authentic Flavours

Arabic chicken shawarma is a flavourful and exotic dish that is sure to tantalise your taste buds. Originating from the Levantine region, it has become popular across the globe for its unique blend of spices, tender, marinated meat and delectable accompaniments. 

In this article, you will discover the captivating world of Arabic chicken shawarma and its irresistible taste.

Shawarma itself is derived from the Turkish word “çevirme”, which refers to the turning rotisserie in which the meat is cooked. Similar to the Turkish doner kebab and Greek gyro, the Arabic variation has distinct spices and flavourings adapted to regional tastes. 

Chicken marinated in a delicious blend of everyday spices makes for an unforgettable, aromatic dish that is both versatile and easy to prepare.

When savouring Arabic chicken shawarma, you can expect a symphony of flavours and textures, from the juicy marinated chicken to the array of toppings such as tahini, hummus, amba, or pickled cucumbers. 

Traditionally wrapped in pita bread, this dish ensures a satisfying culinary experience that will leave you craving more.

History of Arabic Chicken Shawarma

Shawarma, a popular street food in the Middle East, originated in Turkey and is made of spit-roasted layers of meat, including chicken. First mentioned in writings from the 14th century, its origin is believed to date back to the 18th century in the Ottoman Empire.

The word “shawarma” is an Arabic rendering of the Ottoman Turkish word “çevirme” ([tʃeviɾˈme], “turning”), referring to the turning rotisserie used for cooking. This technique was pioneered by chefs seeking a way to cook meat without sacrificing its juiciness. 

The vertical spit cooking style and the use of fragrant spices and marinades, such as yoghurt and vinegar, set shawarma apart from other similar dishes, like Greek gyros, which use more herbs.

Over time, shawarma has evolved in many ways, with each region putting its twist on the dish. In the case of Arabic chicken shawarma, this variation is primarily due to the use of chicken as the main meat and the addition of unique spices. 

In Lebanon, for example, a new version of shawarma was developed in the 1950s that focused on chicken and used a garlic paste as a primary condiment.

Today, you can find Arabic chicken shawarma served on its own, wrapped in pita bread, or as a topping for various dishes like salads and rice bowls. As you enjoy this tasty dish, you can appreciate the rich history and cultural influences that have shaped it into the delicious meal that it is today.

Ingredients Required for Arabic Chicken Shawarma

To make a delicious Arabic chicken shawarma, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

For the spice mix, gather the following spices:

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp sweet paprika
  • ⅛ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp cardamom (optional)

These spices create the warm, aromatic flavour typically associated with chicken shawarma. You may adjust the quantities to suit your taste preferences.

  • Begin by preparing the spice mix. Combine the cumin, cloves, sweet paprika, turmeric, nutmeg, coriander, fennel seeds, black pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl. If you have cardamom, add it as well for an additional layer of flavour.
  • Next, combine the chicken with olive oil, plain yoghurt, lemon juice, and salt. Mix well, ensuring the chicken pieces are evenly coated in the marinade. Finally, add the spice mix to the chicken and incorporate thoroughly. Make sure each piece of chicken is well coated with the spice mixture, as this will help to infuse the meat with the rich flavours of the shawarma.
  • After marinating the chicken, you may cook it using your preferred method – oven-baked, air-fried, or on the stovetop using a cast iron skillet. The final result should have tender, juicy chicken with a mouthwatering blend of Arabic spices. Once cooked, slice the chicken and serve with fresh salad and wrap in a flatbread, or enjoy it on a plate alongside other Middle Eastern dishes.

Arabic Shawarma Spices and Marination

Fresh Ingredients

To make an authentic Arabic chicken shawarma, the marination process plays a vital role. Using fresh ingredients is key to achieving the perfect taste. 

Start by using freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of bottled, as it adds a zesty flavour to the dish. Additionally, incorporating crushed garlic into the marinade provides both aroma and depth to the overall flavour.

Dry Spices

In addition to fresh ingredients, various dry Arabic spices are used to create the distinct and unique flavour of chicken shawarma. Here is a list of essential spices:

  • Cardamom: A fragrant spice that adds a subtle, warm and sweet flavour to the dish.
  • Paprika: This spice lends a mild, earthy flavour and vibrant colour to the chicken.
  • Cumin: Adding cumin infuses the marinade with a warm, slightly bitter undertone.
  • Crushed red pepper: To give your chicken shawarma a mild heat, include crushed red pepper in the mix.
  • Cinnamon: A unique addition to chicken shawarma, cinnamon imparts a sweet and warm flavour.

Combine these spices along with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to create an authentic Arabic chicken shawarma marinade. 

Allow the chicken to marinate for at least a few hours, or overnight for the best results. The combination of these spices and fresh ingredients will bring an explosion of flavour to your chicken shawarma, making it irresistibly delicious.

Preparation of Arabic Chicken Shawarma

To prepare an authentic Arabic Chicken Shawarma, you start by marinating the chicken. Begin with slicing your chicken into thin strips – it can be either boneless chicken breast or thighs, according to your preference.

Next, create the marinade by combining the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed

Additionally, include a mix of Middle Eastern spices that typically consist of:

  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Allspice
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Ground coriander
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper (optional, for spice)

Combine the chicken strips with the marinade and spices in a bowl, ensuring that the chicken is well coated. Cover and leave it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight for a more flavoursome result.

Once your chicken has marinated, cook it using one of three methods:

  1. Oven-baking: Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). Place the marinated chicken strips on a lined baking sheet or tray, and cook in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and slightly charred.
  2. Air frying: Preheat the air fryer to 400°F (204°C). Arrange the chicken strips in the air fryer basket, leaving some space between them, and cook for 12-15 minutes until fully cooked and golden brown.
  3. Stove-top: Heat a cast-iron skillet or non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a little oil, then cook the chicken strips while stirring occasionally until they are cooked through and nicely caramelised.

Finally, serve your Arabic Chicken Shawarma as a main dish or in a wrap. Complement it with a side of toum (garlic sauce), a salad or some pickles. 

Remember, the key to excellent shawarma lies in its seasoning and the marinade, so do not be afraid to adjust the spices, lemon and yoghurt as needed, to find the perfect taste for you.

Cooking Method for Arabic Chicken Shawarma

When preparing Arabic Chicken Shawarma, it is essential to choose the right cooking method which will enhance the flavours and ensure the chicken stays juicy. Fortunately, there are three different ways to cook shawarma that will deliver a delicious and authentic taste.

One popular method is oven baking, which creates a moist and tender chicken texture. To do this, preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Place the marinated chicken on a baking sheet, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Be sure to flip the chicken halfway through the cooking process to ensure even baking.

Using an air fryer is another effective way to cook Arabic Chicken Shawarma. Set the air fryer to 200°C (390°F), and arrange the marinated chicken pieces in the basket. 

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the basket occasionally to ensure even cooking. This method results in a crispy exterior while keeping the chicken juicy on the inside.

Finally, stove-top cooking with a cast iron skillet can also produce a tasty and authentic shawarma experience. Heat your skillet over medium-high heat, and add a little oil. 

Once the skillet is hot, place the marinated chicken pieces in the skillet, making sure not to overcrowd them. Cook the chicken for about 4 to 5 minutes per side, until it is cooked through and has a nice charred appearance.

Regardless of the method you choose, it is essential to let the cooked chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing it thinly. This allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring that your Arabic Chicken Shawarma is packed with flavour and moisture. 

Once sliced, serve with fresh toum, and a traditional garlic sauce, and enjoy the taste of an authentic Middle Eastern delicacy.

Serving Suggestions for Arabic Chicken Shawarma

When it comes to serving your Arabic chicken shawarma, several options complement the rich flavours and enhance your dining experience. Here are a few ideas to consider while planning your next shawarma feast:

Rice Pilaf: 

Rice pilaf pairs well with chicken shawarma, as its colourful texture and blend of herbs and spices provide a delightful contrast. This dish can also serve as a main course should you desire additional variety.

Pickled Vegetables: 

Use pickled beetroot, carrots, and cucumbers to brighten your chicken shawarma plate. These offer a tangy, vinegary kick that elevates the overall flavour. Preparing pickled vegetables at home is quite simple and lends a personal touch to your meal.


Don’t forget to include some warm, fluffy pita bread or flatbread alongside your chicken shawarma. This makes it easy to wrap the ingredients together and absorb the delicious marinade and juices.


A refreshing salad, such as a cucumber and tomato salad or a classic tabbouleh, offers a palate-cleansing sensation that balances the heartiness of the chicken shawarma. Combining chopped fresh veggies, herbs, and a zesty dressing, these salads are the perfect complement to your main dish.

Lastly, sauces and dips can significantly enhance the chicken shawarma experience. Consider tangy tahini sauce, cool tzatziki, or a garlic yoghurt dip, all of which can be drizzled over the chicken, used as a dipping sauce for bread, or mixed into salads.

Remember that the key to a successful chicken shawarma spread is to balance the enticing flavours, textures, and colours for a satisfying dining experience. Trust your instincts and let your taste buds guide you in choosing the best combinations for your meal!

Nutritional Value of Arabic Chicken Shawarma

When choosing to enjoy an Arabic chicken shawarma, you’re not only treating yourself to a delightful and flavourful meal, but you’re also consuming a good dose of nutritional benefits. Let’s delve into the nutritional value this delicious dish has to offer.

A typical chicken shawarma wrap contains around 430 calories, with 45g of carbohydrates, 9.2g of fat, and 38.6g of protein. The carbohydrates provide energy, while the protein aids in muscle growth and repair. 

However, keep in mind that the nutritional content can vary based on the specific ingredients used and the serving size.

If you prefer to consume just the chicken shawarma meat without the wrap, 4 oz (approximately 113 grams) contains about 192 calories, 6.3g of fat, 37 mg of cholesterol, and 431 mg of sodium. Additionally, it includes 17g of carbohydrates, 1.1g of dietary fibre, and 1.2g of sugars. 

As for protein, you’ll obtain approximately 16g, along with 228.8mg of potassium.

As you can see, the chicken shawarma meat is lower in calories and fat compared to the wrap version. However, it’s essential to note that the sodium level can be quite high, so consuming it in moderation is recommended if you’re watching your salt intake.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, chicken shawarma provides essential nutrients such as potassium, which is vital for electrolyte balance and muscle function. The meat also contains a small amount of B-complex vitamins that support your metabolism and overall health.

Remember that the nutritional values may vary based on your toppings, sauces, and serving size. When choosing your shawarma options, opt for whole-wheat wraps, more vegetables, and moderate sauce usage. This way, you can maintain a balance while still enjoying the scrumptious Arabic chicken shawarma.

Health Benefits of Arabic Chicken Shawarma

Arabic chicken shawarma offers several health benefits, mainly due to its rich protein source. With marinated chicken as the main ingredient, it provides essential nutrients your body needs. Consuming chicken shawarma, particularly when made with lean chicken breast, can aid in weight loss without compromising on taste.

One significant benefit of Arabic chicken shawarma is its high protein content. Protein is crucial for muscle growth, tissue repair, and maintaining a robust immune system. Moreover, high-protein meals can make you feel full for longer, reducing the temptation to snack on unhealthy foods between meals.

The marinating process infuses the chicken with a range of aromatic spices, such as cumin, paprika, garlic, and turmeric. These spices not only add bold, savoury flavours to the dish but also offer their own set of health benefits. For instance, turmeric contains anti-inflammatory properties, while garlic is known for its antibacterial and antiviral qualities.

Furthermore, Arabic chicken shawarma can be a good source of essential minerals and vitamins, including zinc, vitamin B6, and selenium. Zinc aids in proper immune function and wound healing, while vitamin B6 plays a crucial role in brain development and function. 

Selenium, on the other hand, is an essential trace mineral that supports proper thyroid function and acts as an antioxidant.

To get the most health benefits out of Arabic chicken shawarma, make mindful choices in its preparation and consumption. Opt for grilled or baked chicken over fried, and include plenty of fresh vegetables in your shawarma wrap. 

This way, you can enjoy the delicious taste of chicken shawarma while nourishing your body with essential nutrients.

Common Mistakes While Preparing Arabic Chicken Shawarma

While preparing Arabic chicken shawarma, you may encounter a few common mistakes. Avoiding these errors will help you achieve the ultimate flavour and texture for your dish.

Over-marinating the chicken: 

In an attempt to infuse more flavour, you might be tempted to marinate your chicken for longer than necessary. However, leaving the mixture of lemon juice and spices on the chicken for too long can cause it to become overly tough. To prevent this issue, try marinating your chicken for around 2 hours.

Undercooking the chicken: 

Ensure that your chicken is cooked thoroughly to retain the juicy and tender texture that makes shawarma irresistible. Remember, slices of meat should cook evenly and develop a slight char on the outside. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature, which should reach 75℃ (165°F) to ensure it is safe to consume.

Choosing the wrong spices: 

Be mindful of the spices you use. A combination of cumin, cloves, paprika, turmeric, nutmeg, coriander, fennel seeds, black pepper, and garlic powder will provide the right balance of flavours for your Arabic shawarma. Be sure to complete cardamom as it’s a crucial element of this dish, although often overlooked.

Forgetting the fat: 

Traditionally, shawarma is cooked on a rotating spit, where layers of fat melt, keeping the meat juicy and flavourful. When making it at home, it’s important to include a bit of fat to prevent the chicken from drying out. Marinate the chicken with a touch of olive oil or even mix small pieces of fat into the meat.

Serving the shawarma without sauce: 

One crucial element of Arabic chicken shawarma is the garlic sauce, typically made with yoghurt, garlic, and white vinegar. Don’t forget to serve this fragrant side dish, along with fresh vegetables and pickles, for an authentic Shawarma experience.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can elevate your Arabic chicken shawarma preparation and achieve an unforgettable taste that will transport you and your guests to the Middle East.

Variations of Arabic Chicken Shawarma

There are several ways to make Arabic Chicken Shawarma, each with its unique taste and texture. Here, you will find a few different methods, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your preferences and cooking style.

One popular method is oven baking. This method involves marinating the chicken in a blend of Middle Eastern spices, allowing the flavours to infuse before roasting in the oven. As a result, the chicken turns out juicy and tender, with a rich flavour profile from the spices.

Another variation is to air fry the marinated chicken. This method offers the advantage of using less oil, resulting in a healthier version of Chicken Shawarma. The air fryer circulates hot air around the chicken, ensuring even cooking while still obtaining that perfect texture.

A more traditional method is to prepare the Chicken Shawarma on a stovetop using a cast iron skillet. This method produces a slightly charred exterior while keeping the inside moist and juicy – perfect for serving in wraps or with a side of your choice.

No matter which method you choose, Chicken Shawarma can be served with various accompaniments to enhance the dish. Some popular sides include:

  • Toum: A creamy garlic sauce, that adds a refreshing and zesty flavour to the dish
  • Hummus: A chickpea dip, providing a smooth and creamy texture to contrast the chicken’s tenderness
  • Tabbouleh: A fresh and tangy Levantine salad made with bulgur wheat, parsley, tomatoes, and a sumac dressing

So, the next time you’re craving Arabic Chicken Shawarma, remember there are multiple ways to prepare it, each holding its distinct flavours and textures. With these variations in mind, you can tailor the dish to your personal preferences and experiment.

Review and Conclusion

In this article, we have explored the delectable world of Arabic Chicken Shawarma. Shawarma, traditionally cooked on a rotating spit, is known for its juicy and tender meat due to the slow cooking process, during which the meat is charred to perfection. 

The meat is also layered with pieces of fat that melt and enhance the flavour (Source: Hungry Paprikas).

You can recreate the authentic taste of Arabic Chicken Shawarma at home by marinating the chicken in a mix of spices that will tantalise your taste buds even before you start cooking (Source: The Wanderlust Kitchen). 

Once marinated, cook the chicken in an oven set to 400°F (204°C) on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper (Source: FeelGoodFoodie).

To serve, spread a layer of hummus on pita bread, and add the cooked and sliced chicken, tomatoes, and any other toppings of your choice (Source: Chicken Shawarma: Unveiling the Delicious Secrets of this Middle). 

This delightful dish incorporates exotic Middle Eastern flavours, thanks to the incredible marinade of everyday spices (Source: RecipeTin Eats).

We hope that you now have the knowledge and confidence to create a scrumptious Arabic Chicken Shawarma at home. Remember to marinate the chicken well, cook it evenly, and assemble the sandwich with your favourite toppings. Enjoy this flavourful journey to the Middle East!


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