Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

Spring is in the air. The seeds for the garden have been planted and are already starting to sprout. It's time to start thinking about cooking with seasonal vegetables. Once everything is ready to harvest, this recipe will be one that can come straight from the garden ... at least the cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and red pepper. Somehow, I don't think my HOA would look kindly on me having a chicken coop in the backyard.
This recipe comes from the Cooking Light magazine and is incredibly quick and easy and healthy and worth of two thumbs up from every member of my family. That is what I call a ringing endorsement!

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
5 tablespoons plain low-fat Greek-style yogurt, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
4 (6-inch) pitas, halved
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup prechopped red onion

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon yogurt, 1 tablespoon juice, and 2 garlic cloves. Add chicken; toss to coat. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken mixture to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until browned and done, stirring frequently.
2. While chicken cooks, combine remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, remaining 1 garlic clove, and tahini, stirring well. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons tahini mixture inside each pita half; divide chicken evenly among pita halves. Fill each pita half with 1 tablespoon cucumber, 1 tablespoon tomato, and 1 1/2 teaspoon onion.

Substitution Suggestions: Don't be like one person who used something other than plain yogurt in this recipe. (No, it wasn't me!) I suppose you could  use non-Greek yogurt, but the thickness of the Greek version is best. I used a fat-free version and it tasted just fine.
No, you cannot use dried parsley. Don't even think about it! Yes, you can use bottled lemon (I did).
In addition to chicken, you could probably use the marinade with lamb and/or turkey. I'm not sure how beef would work with the yogurt. You could also use the marinade for a kabob and completely skip the pita part. I foresee that in my family's meal plan when the weather warms up enough to grill outside. 

Lessons Learned: The recipe says to cook the chicken immediately. I let it sit and get happy for almost an hour, partly to let it finish thawing since I sliced it while it was still slightly frozen (much easier that way ... and you get a thinner slice). I was concerned that the chicken wouldn't brown, but it absolutely did. The key is to not use too much marinade. In this case, there can be too much of a good thing. I used two chicken breasts for this recipe and it fed my family of four.
I made homemade pita to go with it. Though my pita didn't separate to create a pocket, I liked it better than the store-bought version.
The red pepper flakes weren't over-the-top spicy. I will increase the amount the next time I make this dish since my family does like the spice. The way it's presented here had a hint of residual, front-of-the-mouth heat, but nothing to clear your sinuses or make your eyes water.
I left the house shortly after dinner and came back an hour later. The house smelled wonderful. I wanted to walk out and walk back in again, just to get that initial wallop of aroma.