This Grilled Chicken Shawarma with Avocado Tzatziki is fantastic on its own or when served up with pita bread and hummus! Thank you to California Avocados for helping me share this recipe with you.
It’s not often that I’m able to attribute a recipe idea to Iron Man. If you’ve seen the Marvel movie The Avengers, you likely remember one of the ending scenes where Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man, is lying on the ground after falling back through a wormhole after saving Earth from an extraterrestrial enemy. As he lies there, covered in dust, he lifts his head and says to his fellow Avengers, “Have you ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I want to try it.”
And that’s when my kids starting bugging me to make shawarma. Plus, I had a boatload of gorgeous avocados sitting in my fridge and since it’s California Avocado month (not that I need a reason to celebrate avocados), it seemed only right to create a meal around them.
Shawarma, by definition, is meat cooked on a spit, typically a vertical one. If you’ve ever wandered by a gyro stand at one of the great food halls (think Grand Central Market or Pike Place), you’ve likely seen one of those spits, stacked with tender meat that’s been cooking for hours. The meat is cut off in thin shavings, then typically served with pita bread, hummus, taboulleh, pickles and so on. It’s a feast for the taste buds!
Since I don’t have a big vertical spit at home (I’m guessing you’re in the same boat), I decided to come up with a quick grilled version using chicken. To impart flavor in the meat, marinate it in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and spices.
And what spices are used for shawarma? After doing a fair bit of research, I discovered that those spices can vary. Cumin, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, sumac. For this grilled chicken shawarma, I chose a combination of these spices for my marinade, whisked them together with garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil, and massaged it into the chicken. The longer the chicken marinates, the better – at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
The grilled chicken shawarma on its own is fantastic, but what really makes this meal is the avocado tzatziki sauce. If you’ve ever eaten a gyro, you’ve eaten tzatziki. It’s a wonderfully refreshing yogurt sauce that’s flavored with garlic, lemon juice, fresh mint (or dill) and grated cucumber.
Since it’s California Avocado Month, and California avocados make everything better (yes!), I turned standard tzatziki on its head by adding an avocado. Creamy, delicious and fully of healthy fats. Plus, the color makes such a pretty presentation. One of the best tzatzikis I’ve ever had!
There are a couple of tricks to making this sauce. First, be sure to squeeze all of the water out of the grated cucumber. Place it either in cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel, wrap it tightly and squeeze over the sink to release the excess moisture. Second, grate the garlic on a microplane! My friend, Liz of The Lemon Bowl taught me this trick. The garlic practically melts into the tzatziki and you don’t run the risk of chomping down on a chunk of garlic.
Serve the chicken shawarma alongside the avocado tzatziki, pita bread, hummus, tomatoes and chopped pickles. This is the ultimate finger food meal, scooping up the chicken, sauces and vegetables with the pita bread.
California avocados are at their peek right now, I’ve been devouring them every single day. Believe me, I wish that every single month was California Avocado month! My favorite way to eat them is with a spoon – sprinkling with a little salt and scooping right out of the peel. Heavenly! But they’re also fantastic in sandwiches, with eggs (and hot sauce!), in pasta salads, in salsas (over salmon!) and, of course, in tzatziki sauces. I can’t get enough.
The beauty of avocados is that their taste and texture lends itself to so many preparations, and chefs have been more and more liberal with using them in dishes where you wouldn’t typically find avocados, particularly international dishes. To celebrate these creative uses of avocados, California Avocados is celebrating food halls, such a the Grand Central Market and Pike Place. Just looking at the Grand Central Market’s California Avocado Month menu makes want to hop on a plane to L.A. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area.
- 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 ½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Pita bread, cut into tringles
- Hummus (your favorite kind)
- Lebanese pickles, chopped (can substitute with small dill pickles), optional
- 1 cup grated English/European cucumber
- 1 California avocado, pitted & peeled
- ¾ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 3 garlic cloves, grated
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 mint leaves, thinly sliced (substitute dill, if you prefer)
- Cut the chicken breasts into ½-inch thick strips. Place in a resealable plastic bag.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, salt, allspice and cinnamon. Pour into the bag with the chicken. Seal the bag and massage the chicken to coat with the marinade.
- Marinate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Lightly coat the grate with oil. Cook until the chicken is just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Let cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Serve with the tzatziki, pita bread, hummus and pickles.
- Place the grated cucumber in a piece of cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel. Wrap and squeeze out the liquid. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the avocado, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Transfer the sauce to a bowl, and stir in the cucumber and mint.
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