Helen Graves’ Chicken Shawarma

From Helen Graves’ Live Fire.

This is an attempt at recreating a chicken shawarma Helen ate in Beirut, in particular one from a strip-lit, late-night, in-and-out kinda place; the sort of place where your food is unceremoniously slapped together and handed to you with no pleasure whatsoever. The garlic sauce is key to dish, although she warns against standing too close anyone for the next 24 hours if you dose your shawarma liberally. This dish is ideal to make with our kebab rack so that the shawarma can turn freely without being placed directly onto the grill.

Chicken Shawarma
Serves 6


1kg (2lb 4oz) skinless boneless chicken thighs

Baharat spice mix
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves
½ tsp green cardamon seeds (from roughly 6 pods)
2 tsp paprika
¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Chicken marinade
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp Baharat spice mix (above)
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp neutral oil (such as vegetable or groundnut)

1½ heads of garlic, cloves separate and peeled
large pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
300ml (10 fl oz/1¼ cups) neutral oil (such as vegetable or groundnut)
2 tbsp iced water

Cabbage salad
½ red cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
really generous pinch of sea salt
handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp sumac

To serve
lavash, pitta or flatbreads
pickled chillis


1. First, make the baharat spice mix. Toast the black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cloves in a dry frying pan for a minute or two, until fragrant (moving them around so they don’t burn), then add to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar with the cardamom seeds and grind or crush to a fine powder. Combine with the paprika and nutmeg.

2. Combine the chicken marinade ingredients in a bowl and spread all over the chicken thighs, mixing well. Cover and put in the fridge to marinate overnight.

3. Prepare a barbecue for indirect cooking using a whole chimney starter of coals, with the coals banked on either side.

4. When you’re ready to cook, get your 4 long metal skewers ready. Take a marinated chicken thigh and position it so that you are ready to thread the skewers through the shortest sides of each thigh. You are going to thread each thigh on top of the other to make one large kebab. Take two skewers and thread them through one end of the chicken thigh, then do the same on the other side with the other skewers. Thread the chicken thigh all the way down the skewers, then repeat, layering up the thighs.

5. Position a drip tray in the centre of the coals on the bottom of the barbecue, and pour in around 1 litre (34 fl oz/4 ¼ cups) of water. Place the chicken shawarma on the grill over the drip tray and close the lid, leaving the vents one-third open at the top and bottom of the fire pit. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning the shawarma halfway through.

6. Make the toum by pureeing the garlic, salt and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice in a blender. With the motor running, add the other tablespoon of lemon juice, then very slowly pour in 100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) of the oil. Add a tablespoon of iced water, then follow with another 100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) of oil. Finally, add a second tablespoon of iced water and the final 100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) of oil. The toum should be light, fluffy and white.

7. To make the salad, combine the cabbage and onion in a bowl, add the salt, and use your hands to scrunch the cabbage and onion together until the vegetables soften and begin to release their juice. Mix in the parsley and sumac.

8. Remove the chicken from the skewers and slice, serving it with the toum, cabbage salad, bread and pickled chillies.

LIVE FIRE: Seasonal Barbecue Recipes and Stories of Live Fire Traditions Old and New by Helen Graves (Hardie Grant, £26) Photography: Rob Billington

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.