Middle Eastern Shawarma

I've been looking for a schawarma recipe as good as what I had in the Middle East two decades ago, and I finally found it.  I usually don't post recipes with lots of ingredients, but this one is worth it.  I recommend Roxana Begun's website and video for preparation since she makes it so easy.  As she notes, this is a wonderful make-ahead recipe and great for a party.


Traditionally made with lamb, it is now also made with beef, veal, chicken or turkey -- but I recommend the lamb.  FYI, I would count this among my 10 favorite recipes of all time.  Thank you, Miss Roxana.

Shawarma Spice Mix (we will sell a packet of the whole spices on our website if you don't have them on hand)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 inches cinnamon stick

2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon green cardamon seeds from 8 to 10 pods

6 cloves

1/4 whole nutmeg (a small piece)

1/8 teaspoons fenugreek seeds (optional)

1/2 star anise (optional)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon sumac

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon grated ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger

7 cloves garlic, grated

4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoon Unflavored Olive Oil

4 lb. leg of lamb, boneless & butterflied

1 large onion, sliced

2 cups water

Prepare the meat:  On the fat side of the lamb, trim off excess fat, leaving just a thin layer.  On the other side, slice off any thick pockets of fat.  Make one inch deep slashes in the thickest parts on the seam side.  Flip over and score on the fat side, barely going through the fat layer.

Prepare the spices:  Roast the spices in a skillet and grind into a fine powder in a spice grinder until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Combine the ground spices with the grated ginger, grated garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt into a thick paste.

Pat the lamb dry and coat with 2/3 of the spice paste onto the seam side, rubbing into the slashes.  Spread the rest of the marinade on the fat side.  Place in a bowl and cover.  Refrigerate to marinate a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven at 350º.  Let the marinated meat sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting.  Then, scatter onion slices in the roasting pan and place a rack over that.  (If you don't have a rack to fit your pan, wad up foil and set the meat on it.)  Transfer the meat, fat side up, over the rack. Pour two cups of water in the base of the pan. Cover and bake for about 1½ hours.


Then remove the lid (or foil cover).  Baste the lamb with the juices collected in the bottom of the pan.  Continue to roast the fat side until golden brown on the top.

Flip the meat and place it seam side up. Brush with pan juices and roast until meat has a golden brown crust on this side too. Roasting both sides should take an additional 30 to 60 minutes (mine didn't take long.)  It is done, when the meat is fork tender but don’t roast until it disintegrates.  Place the lid ajar and let it rest for about 20 minutes before cutting.  That will retain the juices better and make it firmer.

Transfer the roasted meat to a carving board to slice.  Cut thin slices against the grain.  Save the juices from the roasting pan to use for reheating or drizzle on the meat while making sandwiches.

Serve with flatbreadrice or couscous, sliced vegetables (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, onions), tahini sauce (recipe notes below), hot sauce, pickles and tabbouleh or yogurt dip.

Notes from the recipe creator:

  1. Preparation: Leg of lamb should be butterflied or have your butcher do that for you.

  2. Cooking time: It takes about 30 minutes of roasting time for each pound and a little extra overall. About 2 to 2½ hours for a 4 pound lamb leg.

  3. Well done or rare? Unlike roast lamb, which may be served medium rare, medium or well done, shawarma is served well done.

  4. Cooking temperature:

    • Roast the lamb until the thickest part of the meat registers a minimum temperature of 165ºF and the juices run clear.

    • The cooking temperature will continue to rise for about 10 minutes after removing from the oven.

  5. Spice Blend:

    • Roasting spices is optional but will give an intense aroma.

    • Also, star anise and fenugreek give an intense flavor but is optional.

    • Scale up the spice amounts and make it in bulk for later use.

    • If you don’t have whole spices, then use the ground spices in applicable amounts.

  6. Tahini Sauce: Process together 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp lemon juice, ⅓ cup tahini, ⅔ cup whole milk Greek yogurt, 1 tsp mint and salt as per taste.

  7. Make Ahead: It can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days or can be frozen for at least a month. Save the juices and use for basting while reheating.

  8. Slow cooker: Cook for about 8 to 10 hours depending on the temperature setting. Broil it in the oven for a nice crust. Baste with the pan juices.

  9. For more tips, check out the blog post above,