complete shawarma guide in denver
complete shawarma guide in denver

What is Shawarma?

The popular street food and delicious Middle Eastern dish, shawarma, can be easily described as seasoned meat typically served on a sandwich, pita bread, or plated.

However, its origins and continued creation have brought a slice of Middle Eastern Food to Colorado.

The term “shwarma” was coined from the Turkish word döner, meaning “turning.”

In the case of both traditional and modern twists on the popular dish, you take thin slices of layered meat, place them on a vertical spit, and roast them slowly on gas or electric heat!

It is often compared to things like Mexican Al Pastor or Greek Gyro, and while there are many similarities, nothing is prepared, developed, or served in the same ways as shawarma.

Ottoman Empire shawarma style

Turkey’s Famous Doner kebab

Shawarma began its rise to its famous dish in the 18th century, during the Ottoman Empire, otherwise known as modern-day Turkey.

At the time, it was referred to as a döner kebab, and it still is today in Turkey!

It was considered an innovative way to cook and eat meats, as the döner kebab was placed on a vertical rotisserie versus a horizontal one and cut off once correctly prepared.

Greek gyros are derived from the same notion and eventually Al Pastor – both known as similar dishes to lamb, beef, and chicken shawarma!

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Shawarma is a Popular Middle Eastern Dish

Shawarma is a massive deal in the Middle East, but if you are not serving it hot and fresh, be prepared to get called out quickly and likely publicly.

Beef and chicken shawarma are taken very seriously as street food and served as a sandwich with pickled vegetables!

You can find this delicious marinated meat, small and locally owned businesses for the most authentic experience, and other Middle Eastern restaurants.

Most shawarma gained a name for itself on the western side of the world thanks to Lebanese immigrants who brought it to Mexico!

Why is Shwarma a Middle East Favorite?

Why an entire region of the world would be interested in one food dish may be puzzling for some, but once you have a chicken shawarma sandwich coupled with a side of french fries.

  1. Shawarma is known as fast Middle Eastern food; it is enjoyed so often because it is easy to eat while you are out and about and on the go, and it is charming to taste buds!
  2. It offers a great source of protein, vegetables, grains, and minerals to nourish the body.
  3. There are also plenty of variations of the dish that cater to different preferences, flavor combinations, ingredients, etc. You can enjoy beef, lamb, turkey, or chicken shawarma with various sauces, from hummus, garlic, tahini, and Amba!

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Types of Shawarma

From the traditional doner kebab to more modern variations of making shawarma, every culture has its spin on things!

While you cannot skimp out on the spices to make your tender meat, knowing your options will help you understand why shawarma is a popular food in the Middle East and has become a global contender!

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Chicken Shawarma

Chicken shawarma is another popular Middle Eastern cuisine option.

Preparing chicken shawarma uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

You can also use any of the following spices:

  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Cardamom
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Salt & Pepper

Creating a chicken shawarma wrap or sandwich can be done by combining yogurt or tahini – which is more common in Israel.

For the finest results, you will want to marinate your chicken shawarma overnight before separating the meat into thin slices and skewering it onto your vertical rotisserie!

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Beef Shawarma

While the doner kebab was created with turkey, you can make the dish with beef.

Beef shawarma is another one of the favorites in the mix of popular street foods commonly served with red onion, pickled turnips, and parsley!

To prepare beef shawarma, you will need to use beef flap meat or flap steak, which is typically the leanest part of the animal.

Flap steak is also commonly served or referred to as sirloin tip!

You can go the traditional route with your shawarma seasoning and spices or mix things up with your order. 

It can be served with rice, tabboleh, vegetables, or any side that is calling to you!

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Veal Shawarma

Veal is another meat used to create shawarma, a variation of the beef option.

Veal shawarma is made using bottom sirloin, reach seasoning, and spices and cooked to absolute perfection!

As shawarma became popularized, people began experimenting with different ways of developing their meals – using various meats and cuts throughout Mediterranean restaurants across the globe!

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Lamb Shawarma

Shawarma is also made with lamb, but you will want to use the lamb shoulder and the usual assorted spices.

The outer layer of the lamb is covered in your special spice rub and roasted slowly and delicately until all the meat is tender.

While it is usually created using the shoulder, you can also use lamb leg!

Once your meat is ready, toss it into a pita with salads, tahini, and Amba. Enjoy!

Turkey Shwarma

Returning to the Ottoman Empire’s beginning, turkey shawarma is not as commonly served or seen in the United States.

Instead, it’s usually chicken, beef, or lamb shawarma. This shawarma is made using turkey thighs and prepped using the infamous vertical roasting spit.

Is Greek Gyros Considered Shawarma?

When people in America hear the term shawarma, they think of gyro, and while gyro is prepared the same way as shawarma, it is not created using the same kind of meats.

Gyro is made with ground meat, lamb, beef, or goat.

It is also served with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and tzatziki.

Understanding other cuisines outside of your own preferences and cultural experiences allows for a sense of wonder with food.

It creates influence and inspires – gyro is just one of many ways the doner enhanced different cultures, allowing others their own interpretation of shawarma.

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The Secret to Making the Best Shawarma

Now that you have your options for shawarma, you need the finer details on its creation.

You can have all the right ingredients but the wrong measurements, or you might have all the proper measures but need help to achieve the end product.

So here are some tips to get started:

The Thinner Sliced the Better

No matter what kinds of meats you are working with, you want to ensure that when you begin slicing them up, they are as thin as possible!

You want your meats to be at 1/4 of an inch because if sliced too thick, they will not soak flavors, and you will not achieve the kind of tender, juicy textures you were hoping for.

Choose Your Spices Carefully

Keep a close eye on what you are and are not using because there are more than a few spices you will want to keep up your sleeve for a good beef, chicken, or mixed shawarma.

There are many different spice blends that you can check out online, but the best grouping of spices is as follows:

  • Cumin
  • Ground turmeric
  • Black pepper
  • Hot paprika or Cayenne Pepper
  • Allspice
  • Amba sauce (pickled mango)

Some Arab countries use ground coriander, cardamon, smoked paprika, and ground ginger!

24-Hour Marinated Meat is Ideal

Before constructing your spit of meat, you need a solid foundation.

This requires the chicken, lamb, or beef shawarma meat to be thoroughly marinated and left for at least 24 hours.

The longer you marinate the meat, the more the flavors will seep past the outer layer and surface area – creating the perfect end product!

Layers of Lamb Fat in Between are Mandatory

Typically, when prepping different meats, the fat is the first to be cut from the team.

In the case of preparing shawarma, it is the opposite rules that apply.

Adding layers of lamb fat between the meat keeps everything moist during the roasting process and will leave with a juicer taste!

Ways to Eat Shawarma: Choose Your Vessel

Once your beef or chicken shawarma has been roasted slowly and sliced from the stack, there are various ways to enjoy it!

There are plenty of different ways people choose to plate their meals, and with shawarma, most involve bread and grains, but how you choose to indulge in your meats is up to you.

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The Classic Laffa Bread

Laffa bread is a type of flat bread which originated in Iraq.

It has a texture similar to naan and pita but doesn’t provide a pocket and can be used to make chicken shawarma wrap!

It uses sugar, oil, flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Laffa adds a bouncy, chewy bread texture to your tender, savory meats!

shwawarma in a fluffy pita bread

The Fluffy Pita Bread

Pita bread is another soft flatbread often found in Greece, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean region.

Pitas can be easily stuffed with shawarma and used as a pocket for your meat and the rest of your toppings and sauces.

It is created with yeast, water, flour, sugar, and salt and is the perfect tool to serve your shawarma!

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Baguette: The Israeli Style

Shawarma Sandwiches are another popular way to enjoy the delicacy.

Baguettes originated in France and are a lean dough baked into a thin, firm bread.

Shawarma sandwiches are often seen in Israel, along with Laffa and pita bread!

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A Healthy Shawarma Plate

If you aren’t interested in adding bread to the equation, then making a nice plate for yourself will work just the same.

Simply plate your shawarma alongside rice, vegetables, baba ganoush, couscous salad, fattoush, or whatever sides you see fit!

tahini sauce on shawarma

What Sauces Go with Shwarma?

Whether you are making chicken, beef, veal, or lamb shawarma – the sauce adds a kick to your mail, no matter how it is served.

Different cultures seem to approach their shawarma sauces differently, but having options allows you to piece together your masterpiece!

Toum: Garlic Sauce

Toum sauce, otherwise known as garlic sauce or its substitute, is an extraordinary sauce to spread on your sandwich or wrap.

This Lebanese tradition uses garlic, oil, lemon juice, and salt.

It is more of a spread than a sauce due to its relatively thick consistency, so it is the perfect condiment to add to your shawarma sandwich!

Tahini Sauce

Tahini originated in the Middle East and is used in Israel and Arabic.

It is often used for falafel, hummus dishes, shawarma, salads, etc.

Tahini is made with sesame seeds, lemon juice, black pepper, and salt and has a slightly bitter taste with the consistency of ranch dressing!

Yogurt Sauce

Yogurt sauce is commonly used in non-kosher restaurants and for Mediterranean foods and gyro, referred to as white sauce or tzatziki sauce.

Turkish people initially used it alongside grilled tomatoes – creating the perfect party for your palette.

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What Sides are Served with Shwarma?

There are plenty of side options with shwarma, from breads and wraps to fried sides and salads.

Everyone has their own approach to the dish, and many base their sides according to their origin country, but to be honest, there are no set rules.

Chicken shawarma may taste better with a side of fries, and veal shawarma may be paired with a side of rice and chopped salad.

Who Says “No” to French Fries?

It is difficult to say no to any fried side; french fries are a cult favorite, especially with a chicken shawarma sandwich. Fries add a crispy texture to the dish.

Pickled Vegetables to Balance the Flavors

Pickled veggies are popular in Lebanese and can be served on the side of your shawarma or inside your sandwich!

You can garnish your plate with carrots, beetroot, cucumber, radish, green chili, and veggies.

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Creamy Homemade Hummus

There is really no way to go wrong with hummus smeared on your chicken shawarma wrap or plopped in the middle of your plate for dipping throughout your meal.

Hummus is created with chickpeas, sesame or tahini paste, lemon, and salt. To top it off, you can drizzle it with additional olive oil and hot sauce!

Rice with Arabic Salad

Rice and couscous are two great grains to make room for on your shawarma plate, but rice with Arabic salad takes everything up a notch.

Arabic salad is made using lemon, olive oil, tomatoes, red onion, and seedless cucumbers.

Mix it all together, and enjoy another fabulous side with your savory shawarma!

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So, What is Shawarma? A Popular Street Food Everyone Loves!

Shawarma had relatively humble beginnings and was quickly popularized into something everyone can enjoy.

Whether popping over to a food truck on your lunch break, attempting to create your own at home, or considering it one of the Best Catering Options for your next event.

It has evolved over the years and has become a great way to nourish our bodies and souls.

If you want an authentic Mediterranean restaurant in Denver, visit us today!

A unique spin on Middle Eastern Dining and dishes in Denver with Kosher, Vegan, and Vegetarian options – there is a little something for everyone, including excellent shawarma!

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