There's nothing I miss more from my time in Israel than shawarma. I'm not exaggerating—I had shawarma in a pita or laffa almost everyday during my six months there. Like my previous experience making tacos al pastor, I knew making shwarma sans a vertical rotating roaster would not be the same, but nevertheless, I decided to try it out at home after seeing a nice recipe in July's Bon Appétit.
A dry rub of tumeric, salt, coriander, cumin, and peppers (black, white and cayenne) was applied to brined turkey cutlets with some onion slices, then drizzled with olive oil—this goes into the fridge overnight. The turkey was then quickly grilled and cut into small strips in an attempt to imitate the slices you get off a vertical roaster. Obviously it didn't have the same taste and crunch as the real deal, but this shawarma was insanely delicious in its own right.
The inside of the turkey cutlets stayed juicy because of the brine, while the outside had a nice, light crunch from the grill's high heat. The rub was complex, with a heat that packed a nice punch from the three types of pepper. Stuffed into a freshly grilled pita with some of the grilled onions, hummus, and Israeli salad, all the flavors came into a perfect balance, which didn't bring me back to the shawaramas of my memory, but left me one satisfied eater regardless.
Adapted from Bon Appétit.
- For the brine:
- 2 quarts of cold water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 pounds 1/4-inch-thick turkey cutlets
- 2 onions, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and skewered
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne pepper
- 8 tablespoons (about) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 8 whole pita breads
- Israeli salad
Mix the ingredients of brine together until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Place the turkey cutlets in the brine and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. Remove the cutlets from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
Mix turmeric, coarse salt, ground coriander, ground cumin, black pepper, white pepper, and hot paprika in small bowl. Place onion slices in a 13x9 baking dish and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the rub, then drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over, turning onions to coat both sides. Sprinkle remaining spice mixture over both sides of turkey cutlets, rubbing in spice mixture with fingertips to coat. Place on top of the onions and drizzle with 4 tablespoons olive oil, turning cutlets to coat both sides. Cover and chill onions and turkey at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly over the charcoal grate and oil the grill grate. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Grill onion slices until tender, about 2-4 minutes per side. Grill turkey cutlets until cooked through, about 1-3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and allow turkey to cool for 2 to 3 minutes, then slice into strips about 1/2" wide.
To serve, place turkey strips in a pita, add some grilled onions, hummus and Israeli salad.