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 Mikhael – I always choose one in this neighbourhood, it’s so fun – and then walk down the road to Makhlouf, a tiny kebab shop in the Armenian neighbourhood 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, chilli, salad and pickles. But the best bit is the chips. I mean, chips 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 flavour to the shawarma. For my version, I roast the chips 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 coriander
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
55g Greek yogurt
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the kebab
500g skinless, boneless
chicken thigh fillets
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into chips
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
Lebanese garlic sauce
4 large flatbreads
2 Baby Gem lettuce, shredded
2 large handfuls of parsley leaves
gherkins and pickled turnips, sliced
1. 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.
2. The following day, when you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7. Put the chips into a mixing bowl. Cover with cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper. Transfer to a roasting tray. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt. Mix well and roast for 12 minutes so that the chips start to soften.
3. Remove the chicken from the fridge and lay the fillets on a grilling rack. Remove the chips from the oven and turn. Place the grilling rack with the chicken over the tray of chips and return 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 juice. Toss together.
4. To serve, spread loads of the garlic sauce over the flatbreads. Top with the lettuce, parsley, gherkins, pickled turnips, chicken and those incredibly soggy chips. Drizzle over chilli sauce to taste, roll up and devour.
This recipe is from Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith