Shawarma – Israeli / Mediterranean style

Note: this recpie is based on a recipe by the owner of a famous Israeli Shawarma place called “Shawarma Ha-Kosem”, or in pure English: “The Magician’s Shawarma”. link.

Slowburn
My complete setup

My Shawarma recipe is the result of a long search for a good Shawarma that matches what I remember back home in Israel.

Growing up in Ramat Gan, Israel, I had access to one of the most famous Shawarma places in the country, which is still there to this day, called “Shawarma Shemesh” (“The Suns’ Shawarma”).

שווארמה שמש תובעת את המדינה - ידיעות אחרונות

Shemesh (i.e. Sun) is a somewhat common last name in Hebrew, for Iraqi immigrants, which many of them ended up clustering in the city of Ramat Gan. The place is named after the last name of the owner, to the best of my knowledge.

People would stand in line to get a serving of this amazing Shawarma staffed into a fresh pita with very few simple additions: some fresh diced tomatoes and cucumbers, tahini sauce, a bit of amba sauce (a strong flavored yellow condiment made of pickled mango), some hot peppers spicing paste (SCHUG), and maybe some french fries. But the hero is the meat.

שווארמה שמש מסעדת בשרים - ז'בוטינסקי 85 רמת גן ביקורות וחוות דעת - Rest
The Shemesh Shawarma setup

In more recent years, the very hungry people could get their serving wrapped inside a 10″ flat pita, known as an Iraqi pita, instead of inside a pita’s pocket. This is called a LAFFA (Arabic for roll), and it will typically look like this:

Shawarma in a lafa (rolled flat Iraqi-style pita). This is big, really big. I don’t think I was able to finish this one up, which is why a had time to take a picture of it)

But no matter how you consume your Shawarma, once you had your first one you can’t go back. No offense to the greek Gyro (and I’m not even talking about the American version that is basically a huge pile of processed meat, like a rotating hotdog), a good old Shawarma taste fresh, you can feel the meat, you can see the meat, and the flavors are to die for.

Usually, it is made of layers of female turkey thighs, which are hard to find in the US, but my version is using chicken thighs, and gets the same result, if not even slightly better if I can say so myself.

In my personal opinion, the flavor is controlled by two main factors: the dry rub spices mix you use, and the quality plus amount of the lamb fat that is running throughout the meat.

If you nailed these two, any decent meat will work. You can find great Shawarma made of Turkey, Chicken, Lamb, or a mix of these. But my favorite has to be the Turkey and Chicken ones. They are the juiciest, and they observe and retain the flavors of the dry-rub and the fat, in the best way.

My Shawarma Recipe

Ingredients:

For the dry-rub (enough for more than a single serve):

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 2.5 tablespoons hawaij
  • 1.5 tablespoons Baharat
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 0.5 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 0.5 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 0.5 tablespoon crushed red hot chili peppers
  • 1.5  tablespoon ground cumin

For the meat skewer:

  • 5-6lb Chicken thighs (deboned, no skin, fat trimmed). Tip: Costco’s thighs are perfect. 2-3 of their 6 pouch pack is a perfect size.
  • ~1lb ground lamb fat
  • ~5oz sliced ​​lamb fat
  • 6 tablespoons Amaba spread
  • Optional: 1/2 cup pinenuts
  • Optional: small onion
  • Optional: small tomato

Directions:

  • Mix all spices of the dry-rub well (this will last for more than a single making, so keep the leftovers for future use).
  • Clean the meat from any large patches of fat or non-meat artifacts like ligaments etc.
  • Butterfly or split the thighs into flat ½” fillets
  • Rub the meat with the spices mix and let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes (overnight in the fridge is optional, but really not needed)
  • Depending on the method you choose to build the skewer (see alternative options at the end), place 2-3 layers of the meat, followed by about ¼” of ground lamb fat (see picture below)
  • Spread a bit of Amba on the fat (I also like to add some pinenuts at this point)
  • Repeat until you are done with all the meat, or out of skewer space, whichever comes first 😅
  • Make sure to leave enough space at the top for your machine to handle the skewer.
adding a layer of ground lamb fat, this makes all the difference. Cover it with Amba, and optional pinenuts before moving to the next layer. Source: hakosem recipe
  • Top with a few layers of sliced lamb fat
sliced lamb fat on top will ensure the whole meat is cooked in the fat oils as they melt during the cooking process. Source: hakosem recipe
  • Optional: wrap the whole skewer in a plastic food wrap and roll to tighten the shape.
  • Optional: Leave the skewer in the fridge over-night, to let the dry-rub sink dipper into the meat, or if you simply want to prepare the skewer the night before the big day. 
  • Optional: put a small onion and tomato on top, just before starting the cooking process.

Gameday: Making the Shawaram

Cooking time is different depending on the method you use, but anywhere between 40-60 minutes is the time it would take to have the outer layers ready to be eaten.

Although the outer layer is more cooked than the inner layers, after the first 45-60 minutes, most of the meat is already cooked, and the only difference is the amount of crispiness you’ll get by letting fresh layers of unshaved meat rotate a bit more against the fire/heat source.

As for temperature, I don’t have a good number for you, just start high and monitor to not burn your meat.

On an electric or propane rotisserie, it takes about 45-60 minutes, and the heat is almost fixed. If you can adjust the heat, you can lower it after the 45 minutes mark.

As soon as the meat starts to look ready, start shaving it using either a very very sharp large knife, or the better option is one of these electric carving knifes you can buy on Amazon for less than $20.

Serve the shaved meat in a pita with some hummus spreaded, diced tomatoes and cucumbers, some drizzled tahini sauce, and french fries, and you are all good to go.

Served in pita. Tip: filling two halves of Pita gives you more meat and less waste! Btw this picture is using a whole-wheat pita! A healthier option!

Want a more gluten-free option? skip the pita, plate on a bed of rice or in a plate of Hummus, drizzle some Tahini on top, and you are set.

Getting serious: invest in a shawarma machine

Although I will list below few alternatives for making your shawarma without a dedicated machine, the best option is to use a machine. Here are a couple of options you can use on a tight budget.

You can find both electric rotisserie machines and propane-based machines on Amazon at prices ranging between $85 – $250. Do your research carefully to make sure the seller is trustworthy. These reviews are important!!!

In any case, make sure to use or buy an electric knife to carve your meat, because it has to be a very sharp knife to handle this meat and most people don’t have these special knives at home, and also you don’t want to keep sharpening your knife as you carve your meat.

The two machines that I have tried (but are not always available in stock on Amazon) are below.

Electric Shawarma machine

Note: I didn’t use this exact one, but the one I used is discontinued, so this is the closest version I found.

link to Amazon

Propane shawarma machine

Link to Amazon

Alternative methods if you don’t have a Shawarma machine

Not all of us are so serious about Shawarma that we are ready to buy a machine. Don’t worry, there are options for you as well. Here are a couple of methods that are known to give decent results.

Best alternative: in the oven in a loaf pan

Source: Google images
Source: Google images

Layer the meat in a baking pan.

Preheat your oven to 355ºF and cook for about 60-90 minutes.

Almost as good: on a wooden skewer

Cut a large onion in half. Place one half on your baking sheet, and push a wooden skewer into it.

Layer your meat on it and top with the 2nd half of the onion

making a skewer stand from half onion and a wooden skewer. Source: Google Images

Wrap it all in baking paper and then foil.

Preheat your oven to 355ºF and cook for about 60-90 minutes.

Pill off the foil and baking paper and put back in the oven for another 15-30 minutes for the final roast.

My 5 minutes Tahini Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 x cup Tahini
  • 1 x cup extra cold water
  • Salt
  • Citric Acid (optional)
  • Cumin
  • 1/2 cup of Lemon&Garlic juice (see instructions in my Hummus Recipe)
  • Optional: Parsley (for green style tahini)

Preparation

We will make the Tahini directly in the container we will store it in using a handheld stick blenders, so pick a container that is tall enough to hold the Tahini and to be used for the blending process

Image result for hand held stick blender
Example stick blender

Put all the ingredients into the container:

  • 1 cup Tahini paste
  • 1 cup of extra cold water
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • ¼ teaspoon citric acid (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • The Lemon & Garlic juice.
  • Tip: For more of a “green Tahini” style, add about a handful of parsley leaves into the container.

Blend and mesh with the stick blender for a few minutes, taste and add spices as needed.

If the consistency is not liquid enough add a small amount of cold water and keep running. The texture should be smooth silky and the consistency should be semi-liquid like that of a pancake’s batter.

Enjoy with some Hummus!

My Homemade Hummus Recipe

TL;DR? jump to recipe

Growing up in Israel, I learned to appreciate great Hummus. No, not that Hummus as a side or as a dip, Hummus as the main dish, the hero of your lunch or dinner!

Hummus as the Hero
People standing in line for Ali Karavan's Hummus
They stand in line for Ali Karavan (Abu Hassan) Hummus in old town Jaffa

I’m talking about the Hummus that people stand in line for, like Abu Hassan (aka Ali Karavan) in old town Jaffa, and many others in other parts of the country like Acre and Haifa.

Over the 14+ years since I moved to the USA, I kept looking for the perfect Hummus dish, and with the exception of few rare places that are not in my area or even state, I found nothing.

So about 7 years ago I started the journey of mastering the perfect plate of homemade Hummus.

I have tried so many recipes, so many ideas, and so many ingredients, and only in the last year or so, I found my “hero” recipe.

Here is what I learned:

  • The most important ingredient for the taste is the Tahini.
  • The 2nd most important ingredient is using fresh lemon juice, and a lot of it
  • Beans should be good and thick, but I found that beans from a can are the fastest and most consistent way to get from craving Hummus to eating it. Yet if you want to cook your own, I give some tips on how to do it, later on, just remember that this requires about 24-48 hours of prep time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in love with the Abu-Hassan hummus and especially Messabacha dish. I don’t claim to be close to putting his throne at risk, but what I achieved here allows me to have a hummus lunch or dinner a few times a week at home without feeling sad! (Let’s face it, I eat hummus every day, just like the stereotypical Israeli guy!)

So here it is, I give you my Israeli-style Hummus Recipe, the one that is as close as I could get to my beloved Hummus back in Israel.

Raz’s Hummus Recipe

Prep time: ~60 minutes

Serving Size: ~2.5 Lbs

Ingredients

  • 2 x Cans SAHADI Chickpeas (buy) or 3-4 cups of your self cooked Cheak Peas.
  • 1 x Cup Al Wadi Tahina Paste (buy)
  • ½ x Cup Extra light Olive Oil (buy)
  • 1 x Cup Extra Cold Water
  • Salt (~1 teaspoon)
  • Cumin (pinch)
  • 3-4 x Garlic Cloves
  • 3-4 x Lemons
  • Baking Soda

Prep for Self-cooked Beans

If you want to go the extra mile and cook your own bean, which no doubt will improve the taste, follow these instructions.

Plan at least 24-48 hours ahead of time, as soaking and cooking takes time.

Tip: Cook more than you need and freeze the extra for the next time. Depending on your cooking pot capacity you can do x2 or x3 the amount here. The amounts I list are good for a single batch of Hummus, per the recipe below.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of dry garbanzo/chick-peas beans
    • Tip: The smaller the better. Ideally should be the size of a very small pea.
    • Tip: Garbanzo and Chick-Peas are basically two names of the same exact bean (at least to the best of my research 😂)
  • Baking soda (1/2 tsp)
  • water
  • 1/2 Dry White Onion – optional
  • Plastic (or other non-metal) bowl
  • Large cooking pot (or a pressure cooker)

Instructions

  • Soak the dry garbanzo beans in freshwater (at least 1 inch over the beans) in the plastic bowl and mix with the baking soda
  • Switch the water at least 3-4 times during the next 24 hours (every 4-6 hours). No need to add the baking soda each time.
    • Tip: The beans will double in size by the time you are done, so plan accordingly, and use a large enough bowl.
    • Tip: watch for bad beans, little rocks and other waste that might have found its way into the bag of dry beans
  • After at least 24 hours, but not more than ~48 hours, rinse one last time, and place in a large enough cooking pot
    • Tip: Some people even put the beans for a short sprouting phase and claim it improves the overall taste and even reduces the amount of, well, gas passed by eating the Hummus later on…, but swapping the water enough times should achieve the same)
  • cover with water at least 1.5 inches above the beans
  • Optional: add 1/2 dry white onion
  • Bring to boil and then keep cooking on low heat for about 2.5 hours.
    • Tip: The time can be shortened to about 1.5 hours if you add 1/2 tsp of baking soda
    • Tip: you can shorten the time to 1.5 hours without baking soda, using a pressure cooker. I found this very tricky because cooking garbanzo beans produces a lot of foam and you have to wait for the pressure-cooker to release all pressure naturally before you can open it, otherwise, you will spray your entire kitchen with the foam, so this adds another 30-45 minutes, and more often than not, you will end up spraying your kitchen, which adds another 15-30 minutes of cleanup time… so I stick to regular cooking 😬)
  • As you cook, watch for foam, and scoop it out as it builds
  • If needed, add water to ensure the beans are covered at all time
  • Cooking is complete when the beans are hard enough to keep their structure but can be squashed between your fingers with light pressure. If you can’t squash them, keep cooking, but if they do not resist, you probably overcooked them, so, well… you need to go back to step one… or just crack open a can of beans… 🤔
  • If you added the onion, just throw it away, and rinse the beans one last time in cold water.
  • Depending on the beans you used, you might have shells floating around. I like to separate the shells from the beans (see below for how), but it is ok to keep them as is.
  • If you cooked more than you needed, split into bags (I use vacuum-sealed bags) and freeze the extras.
  • Place the beans you will use in a bowl, cover in fresh cold water and put in the fridge for at least 15-30 minutes, to stop the cooking process and stabilize the beans before the actual Hummus making starts.

Preparation

  1. Rinse Chickpeas
    Wash well from any of the can’s or cooking liquid residue (unlike common belief, I found that the cooking water is not great for Hummus. Freshwater does a much better job).
  2. If using beans from a can, or pre-cooked but frozen, re-heat using a pot and freshwater covering about 1.5-2 inches above the beans (make sure the beans are never exposed, always ensure there is enough water over them).
  3. Optional: Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda (I usually do this for canned beans)
  4. Cook the Chickpeas for ~15 minutes at maximum heat. Keep pot half-covered and watch for foam overflow(!!!). Stir every few minutes and scoop the foam and any detached shells during the cooking process (baking soda is helping to separate the shells and soften the beans).
  5. Rinse and wash beans thoroughly in cold water and separate as many of the shells as you can. The cold water stops the cooking process.
    Tip: run the beans in between your palms to separate as many of the shells from the beans and throw the shells away. To get rid of the shells, fill the bowl with water so they float and slowly tilt the container so that the shells that are floating will fall out with the water as you drain it slowly. Repeat as needed.
  6. Keep the beans in the bowl covered with fresh cold water and place in the fridge to cool down for ~10-15 minutes. Cooling the beans stops the cooking process which in turn makes sure the beans remain firm enough and not get too soft before we grind them.

Lemon Juice with Garlic

While the beans are cooking and/or cooling prepare the lemon juice with garlic as follow:

  • Squeeze the juice of 3-4 fresh lemons (about 1/2 – 3/4 of a cup)
  • take 4-5 garlic cloves and separate them from most of their shell (not too critical because of the way we will crush them)
  • Place the fresh lemon juice and the garlic cloves into a mini food processor with a splash of freshwater (less than 1/8th of a cup at most)
  • Smash it all together in the mini food processor
  • Through a fine-mesh strainer, pure the mix into a container, and use a spoon to smash the garlic through the strainer.
fine mesh strainer

This method will keep the rich flavor of the garlic but avoid any chunks of it in the hummus.

Once the beans have cooled down and the lemon/garlic juice is ready, we can move on to the final step.

  • Rinse the beans one last time, getting rid of any leftover floating shells. Drain the beans to get rid of all left water. It is ok to have some shells left. We got rid of most of them by now.
  • For the mixing phase use a food processor with a lower metal blade, like this one
Image result for food processor blades
  • Fill the food processor’s container with:
    • The beans (you may keep a small amount for decoration if you want)
    • 1 cup tahini paste (stir well first)
    • ½ tbsp salt
    • ¼ teaspoon cumin
    • The Garlic+lemon juice
  • Start the food processor. Watch the texture of the hummus as it is being processed. Slowly add the cold water as needed to achieve the desired consistency. A good Israeli style hummus is silky smooth yet firm enough so that when the blade is taken out, the hummus stands still in the container. Stop and taste. You can add more of the spices as you see fit.
  • Once you are happy with the taste, keep running for 2-3 minutes
  • While running, slowly add the ½ cup of extra light olive oil.
  • Stop the food processor and check the consistency of the Hummus. Again if you brought it to the right level, once the blade is taken out, the Hummus should stand still like in this photo.

Serving Tips

Serve the Hummus with light paprika, pine nuts, good (not light) virgin olive oil and some parsley.

Typically served together with Tahini on top (recipe here). Usually, you eat with your hands using a fresh pita (this is my wife’s pita).

Brave people will eat it with a strong and spicy Yeman dip called S’CHUG (a recipe I found online)

A lite option can be eating it with Moon Pops.

Why I use beans from a can?

Many people will only use dry garbanzo beans and go through the process of soaking and cooking for hours. Personally, I yet to find a winning cooking method that gave me the expected consistency, so I jump between cooking and using cans every so often. Canned beans give me great results and save me 1-2 hours of cooking and 24-48 hours of prep (soaking, swapping freshwater, etc.), so I use canned beans! You #Can Kill Me!

But no doubt, the self-cooked beans do elevate the taste and remove some of the bitterness and aftertaste that you sometimes get with the canned beans.

The cooking method I suggested above, (inspired by many recipes I read and most recently by my friend and a Hebrew food blogger Yuval Shchory) is the best method I found to get decent and consistent results, so if nothing else, at least follow these steps.