I am a man who likes routine and on arrival to Beirut I have a very set agenda: head to my rented apartment in Mar Mikhaël—I always choose one in this neighborhood, it’s so fun—and then walk down the road to Makhlouf, a tiny kebab shop in the Armenian neighborhood, Bourj Hammoud, for the best chicken shawarma in the world. The meat, which is one of those slightly mad-looking bulbous things spinning in the shop front, is so well spiced and juicy. It’s wrapped up with masses of garlic sauce, chili, salad, and pickles. But the best bit is the fries. I mean, fries in a wrap. Double carbs. So wrong it’s right. They are kept warm in a tray under the chicken, soaking up all the meaty juices and adding the most amazing flavor to the shawarma. For my version, I roast the fries together with the chicken and then get wrapping. If you can’t find Lebanese garlic sauce, just mix a little mashed garlic with mayonnaise.
For the marinade
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cilantro
- 1/2 teaspoon Lebanese 7 spice or baharat
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1-1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the kebab
- 18 ounces skinless boneless chicken thigh fillets
- 10-1/2 ounces potatoes, peeled and cut into fries
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- sea salt
- Lebanese garlic sauce
- 4 large flatbreads
- 2 Little Gem lettuce, shredded
- 2 large handfuls of parsley leaves
- sliced gherkins and pickled turnips
- chili sauce
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a large mixing bowl, along with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The following day, when you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425°F. Put the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Cover with cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to a roasting pan. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt. Mix well and roast for 12 minutes so that the fries start to soften.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and lay the fillets on a grilling rack. Remove the fries from the oven and turn. Place the grilling rack with the chicken over the fries and return both to the oven. Cook for 18–20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beautifully tender. Slice the chicken into thin strips and squeeze over the lemon. Toss together.
- To serve, spread loads of the garlic sauce over the flatbreads. Top with the lettuce, parsley, gherkins, chicken, and those incredibly soggy fries. Drizzle over chili sauce to taste, roll up and devour.
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Cover Courtesy of Kyle Books
Reprinted with permission from Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith and published by Kyle Books.