Shawarma-style roasted spicy cabbage

Hot damn, that title’s a mouthful. But what do you do with this one? There’s no meat to be seen and it’s not on a skewer. But it is a big old heap of brassica that really packs that savoury Levantine punch.  Saying “shawarma spiced” would be a world of seasonal latte bullshit, so here we are.

Roasted cabbage shawarmaIt’s a roasted cabbage, it’s a bit like shawarma, and it’s worth your time.

My affection for leafy greens is a matter of some record, so claiming you can make passable kebabs with cabbage (cabbabs?) is well within the understood scope of my nonsense. But I am not shitting you here. It’s got the big earthy savoury to carry the spice, and retains a bit of crunch and body.

Trust me.

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Hot sour chicken shawarma

The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is one of my favourite things to do with a kilo of dead sheep. It’s rich and deep and tasty, and a great workaround for not having a rotating vertical spit. With its four hours of cooking time and day of marinating, however, what it is not is especially practical.

Chicken is a fuck of a lot quicker to cook, so here’s a rich, spicy, kebab-style dish that’s lightened out a bit to play nicely with chicken thighs and a more realistic timetable. You still need the long marinade, but the cooking’s much shorter. Oh, and the spices are remixed with an achari-influence to be kind of lighter and hot-sour.

Obviously, at this point, everything that would qualify it as shawarma has been reinterpreted, worked around, modified, or otherwise engineered out, leaving only a vague shell of the concept, an association in mind and palate. It’s the wrap of Theseus, if you will. And for those who quite rightly won’t, it’s a tasty thing to put in pita bread with a load of peppers and green bits.

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Spicy cabbage pitas, using shawarma leftovers

Having failed to blog yesterday’s shawarma properly, here’s a quick note on what I did with the leftover ingredients.

(I fried them, basically.)

Spicy cabbage and chorizo pita
Spicy cabbage and chorizo pita

The shawarma was made with slow roast lamb shoulder in a heavy-duty spice mix with plenty of coriander and lemon juice. The cabbage was leftover form the pita stuffing. Because the lamb needed to be kept moist and occasionally have water added, it left plenty of run-off juices and fat. Ordinarily, I’d have made a sauce out of this, but it didn’t fit with the kebab vibe, so it went into the fridge.

I’m glad – poured over fried cabbage and reduced it was amazing. What follows is a bare-bones recipe without the rich, spicy meat juices. It’s essentially an excuse to toast pitas full of harissa and tomato paste, and it ought to more or less work.

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Shawarma is basically a fancy kebab. Britain knows the Turkish version better as the doner kebab which is so ubiquitous on high streets, and – in short order – their pavements. The Gyro – Greece’s take on the rotisserie kebab – is also better known in the UK than Shawarma (the more Arabic version), and might well have remained that way but for a potent combination of Yottam Ottolenghi and The Avengers.

Anyway, like most fast food, shawarma is great when it’s done well and a greasy nightmare most of the rest of the time.

Shawarma marinating

This isn’t a recipe, it’s just a quick plug for the one I used last night. It was the one in Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s new book Jerusalem. I’m not giving it here because it doesn’t seem like playing fair just to copy it out, given I didn’t modify it in any way. Also, typing it would be a pain in the arse.

But their shawarma recipe works. It’s slow cooked lamb in a rich spice marinade, sliced thinly into pitas with salad and sauces. They suggest two sauces: a simple tahini and lemon mix, and a blend of harissa and tomato. It turns out that both of these are the fancy-pants ancestors of the moderately ineffable slurry you’ll find squirted over what I’ve heard lovingly described as “A proper British kebab, cooked by a proper British Turkish guy”.

For one sauce, I chopped a fresh tomato, drained off some of the liquid, and mixed the flesh with chopped coriander and a stout teaspoon of harissa. This was smeared inside the pitas before they were grilled. For the other I reduced a clove of garlic to a paste in a pestle and mortar, with a little salt, and beat it together with tahini, lemon juice, and a little water. This was then tossed through some fine-shredded sweetheart cabbage, to make the bulk of the vegetable filling. Next time, I’ll add a little lettuce.

It’s worth trying.