Shawarma, a popular street-food that originated in Middle East and now has a fanatical cult following in Kenya, is easy to make on a lazy Sunday. Chefs say a homemade shawarma may not be as authentic as the one sold in restaurants, but sometimes when the craving strikes, authenticity may not always matter.
To make a shawarma, you need chicken, flat bread, creamy gravy, sliced and crunchy fresh veggies. You may also require the slow-turning vertical rotisserie or spit which you will put the chicken to spin for hours until fully cooked by the flames from the grill behind it.
According to George Musian, a chef at Barka restaurant in Mombasa, just a handful of spices makes an incredible chicken shawarma.
He starts the process by marinating the boneless chicken with vinegar and spices such as black pepper (pilipili manga) and finely-chopped dill (bizari nyembamba).
“We marinate the chicken with around seven spices such as blended onions, lemon and tomato paste,” he says.
He then impales the chicken on a spit, roasts it, cuts piece by piece and serves the 40 kgs of chicken for five hours.
It is also served with freshly-made egg mayonnaise.
“The sauce is very important that is why we make the mayonnaise every day. Also the bread is freshly made,” says George. He says the vertical spit allows easy roasting of sliced meat. Although one can make a shawarma at home without using the revolving spit, it won’t be as authentic, he says.
“Without the machine, it will not be as tasty but there are smaller machines which cost about Sh30,000 and one can use them at home,” says George.
To make the shawarma wrap, he then piles the sliced chicken on a tandoori bread with chopped salad topping with mayonnaise or chilli sauce.
However, another Chef Said Hassan says one can make a simple shawarma using oven-baked chicken.
“It might not be as flavourful as the one slowly cooked on the revolving spits but it will still be wonderful,” he says.
One needs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, seasoned with cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika and cayenne.
“You have to make sure you coat the chicken well. You then add onions, lemon and oil. You can refrigerate for some hours or not,” he says.
When ready, bake the chicken for around 30 minutes then serve.
“Shawarma is best served in pita bread pockets or wraps with veggies and sauces. A homemade bread is easy to make with just flour, water, salt and sometimes yeast to make it rise. You can use any salad and veggies that you have. Lettuce and red vegetable works well,” he says.