Binging with Babish: Shawarma from The Avengers
You ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it. Hey, what’s up guys? Welcome back to Binging with Babish where this week, we’re taking a look at the shawarma from The Avengers. First things first, much like the Palestinian chicken from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” we need to make a yogurt-based marinade. Excuse me while I get the yogurt out the fridge… There we go. We’re putting two cups of yogurt into this medium glass bowl. And then for both the sake of flavor and browning, we’re adding 1/2 a cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Along with the requisite fresh garlic, eight whole cloves in fact, crushed like the spirits of The Avengers when they first face off against Thanos. I’m not pandering, you’re pandering. Anyway, we’re seasoning our yogurt mixture with about 1 teaspoon each of ground sumac, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and allspice. If you want extra points go ahead and toast and grind these fresh, but, frankly, I’m not in the mood. I will, however, grate 1 small onion. Adding it to the party before hitting the marinade with the basics: fresh ground pepper and kosher salt. Just sort of visualize the amount of chicken that you’re gonna be marinating and add salt and pepper accordingly. Speaking of which, chicken thighs. Got to go with thighs because we’re gonna be cooking this whole affair low and slow until browned and tender. Chicken breasts, quite simply, are not up to task. Go ahead and tightly cover that and let marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours if not overnight. During which time we need to make some fresh pita bread. This method comes courtesy of Chef John, my hands only, culinary brother from another mother. Into the bowl of a stand mixer we’re combining 150 grams of flour, 1 cup of water between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and one packet of active dry yeast. Whisking to combine and creating a slurry that we’re going to let sit for 20 minutes or until it has become bubbly and foamy, alive with yeast activity. Now to the sponge we’re going to add 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, and we’re going to weigh out 225 additional grams of all-purpose flour. And you should probably measure this, but I just threw in a few pinches of kosher salt. Affixing my dough hook, adding the aforementioned flour, and kneading this guy for 5 to 6 minutes until a smooth, supple ball of dough forms. I love saying that. Smooth supple ball of dough. And I’d recommend adding the vast majority of the flour, but not all of it. And if it’s too sticky, if it’s sticking to the sides of the bowl, add a little bit more flour until it looks a little something like this. Tacky but not sticky. Anyway, we’ve got our smooth supple ball of dough that we’re going to turn out onto a floured surface, form into a little ball, and place in a lightly oiled glass bowl. Or a non-glass bowl, it really doesn’t matter. Just roll your ball of dough around a little bit so it gets evenly coated in oil, cover, and let rest in a nice warm room for two hours, or until doubled in size. That’s going to give us plenty of time to focus on our shawarma accoutrements. First up: tabbouleh salad. We’re going to finely chop maybe 3/4 of a pound of cherry tomatoes. And thanks to some very astute tips from “Serious Eats” we’re going to start by salting these tomatoes. This is going to help them weep away a lot of their excess moisture, which otherwise would make the salad a little bit soggy. So place those in a fine mesh sieve over a measuring cup we want to save that tomato water. And we’re gonna do the same thing pretty much with some freshly chopped parsley. Hit it with a little bit of kosher salt and we’re going to put these guys in a paper towel-lined bowl. We don’t need to save the moisture here, we’re just trying to get it out. While both of these guys drain for 20 minutes, we’re going to chop up the remaining ingredients in our tabbouleh. That being some finely minced cucumber, some finely minced scallion, and some finely chopped mint. This stuff can be made slightly ahead of time, but it’s recommended that you leave the tomatoes for the last step if you’re making it a few days in advance. I’m not entirely sure why, it’s what the internet told me to do. That being said, I’m eating all of this stuff right now so let’s add the tomatoes, give it a little mix… And then we need to add our cooked bulgur wheat that we’re going to cook by boiling the preserved tomato water, 1/4 cups worth, adding it to 1/4 cups worth of bulgur wheat and letting it sit for one hour. Then once the grains are nice and toothsome, we’re going to ignore the balls of dough in the foreground. Don’t worry, that’s going to come later. And add the bulgur wheat to the tabbouleh, seasoning with a little bit of olive oil, some freshly ground pepper, kosher salt of course, just a little bit since we already salted our tomatoes and parsley, and a little sprinkle each of coriander seed, allspice, cinnamon, and cumin. Give it a little mix and it’s time to fridge this guy while we continue to ignore the balls of dough in the foreground and make accoutrement number two of three tahini. This is quite simply a cup and a 1/2 to 2 cups of sesame seeds that we’ve toasted in a dry pan, added to a food processor once they’ve cooled, and processed into a thick paste. To which we’re going to add a little bit of neutral flavored oil. I’m going with grapeseed oil, you can use sesame oil if you really want to up the sesame flavor. And let that process for three to five minutes until smooth and creamy like an all-natural peanut butter. And there you go, tahini, a condiment that’s going to stay deliciously fresh for months if not years kept sealed in an airtight jar. Now as you can see, our dough has doubled in size. And as you might guess, we’re about to get those dough balls going. Let’s turn our dough out onto a floured surface, pat down into a sort of rectangle, and divide equally into 8 pieces using a bench scraper or literally any sharp object you have laying around. Now we’re going to form those eight pieces into little dough balls, thus providing catharsis and understanding to the audience members that were confused about seeing them a couple minutes ago. We’re then gonna let these guys rest under a sheet of plastic wrap for about 30 minutes until they have again doubled in size. Ding! You know, kind of like that. Oh geez, Chef John said “oil your plastic wrap” and I didn’t listen. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because we are rolling these guys out anyway. I am placing them to the side so we can get our burner in here. And get a skillet going over medium-high heat until super hot, so we can fry these up. Almost like we’re making tortillas. We’re rolling them out nice and thin and dropping them onto a very hot surface, letting them bubble up a little bit on one side. You can see that the whole piece of bread starts to sort of thicken and then, these larger bubbles start to rise up, which is a good sign that the underside is starting to blister and turn brown. Give it a little check with your spatula and flip. Now if you did everything absolutely perfectly and you’re very lucky, the pita will rise, creating the signature pocket we all know and love. But even if it doesn’t, these are still gonna be delicious. So just let them fry up and stack them high on a plate to keep them warm and soft. As we move on to make accoutrement number three of three, Tzatziki sauce. This is a very simple sauce made of finely chopped or shredded cucumber, some nice, thick Greek yogurt, maybe about a cup/cup and a 1/2 worth. Go ahead and add the cucumber and then we’re gonna bring a couple other simple flavors to the party. How about the juice of one whole lemon, and of course one of my favorite fresh herbs, dill. We’re gonna finely chop a solid handful’s worth. And, because your garlic crusher’s in the dishwasher, grate in a couple cloves of garlic. This is a great recipe to eyeball and experiment with because I can guarantee no matter how crazy the proportions, it’s still gonna be pretty good. And of course, every shawarma I’ve had in New York City has been accompanied by infuriatingly cubed tomatoes, and sliced cucumber. Now you could just bake or grill your chicken, those would be both great options. But why not go for the real thing? For a mere $89 on Amazon, you can get a shawarma machine that you will never ever use again. It comes with a lovely spit unto which you can impale your marinated chicken thighs. Trying to keep them as even as possible, but I suspect this takes many years of practice… Or maybe like a long weekend of practice. Anyway, we’re turning this thing on and letting it do its thing for a solid hour and a half. Until the outermost layer of chicken is fully cooked, browned, crisp, and delicious. Now sometimes, shawarma is fried again after being carved off the spit, but I think that’s just so restaurants can repurpose shawarma that isn’t so freshly carved. Anyway, we’ve replaced our meat column into its turntable of hotness. And it’s time, at long last, to put everything together. We have our array of vegetables, pita, and sauces, and I’m going to load a pita up high with a little bit of everything, drizzle some tahini over top, and dig in. Now, this is meant to feed a few people and it’s also a handheld food, so I can’t quite award it the Clean Plate Award. But I will give it the Clean Hand Award. Because I’d down one of these things without even thinking about it. And another one after the camera stopped rolling… And another one the next morning. Don’t judge.