Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shish Tawook- شيش طاووق

A few days ago I came home to the smell of BBQ wafting in the air - could that be my house?  The smell was enticing, so reminiscent of the grilled foods we enjoyed in the Middle East (especially on Friday nights).  After realizing it wasn't my house, I made a mental note that I must grill as soon as the weather allows.  When it comes to grilling, I prefer a charcoal grill.  Yes,  gas grills are more convenient, but a charcoal grill provide more heat and flavor.  And when it comes to grilling: heat is your friend.

Now it was time to decide on what to grill? chicken, beef, salmon, liver?  I decided to make some grilled chicken kabobs...more specifically, Shish Tawook.  Shish Tawook is a traditional Arabic and Turkish shish kebab, which can also be found in Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese cuisines, but is made in kabab houses in many cities around the world.  As with anything, recipes for the dish vary depending on family and region.  
My recipe is simple: a yogurt base that is peppered with my favorite spices, lemon juice and OF COURSE tons of garlic.  The key to grilling any meat is to avoid drying it out, so it is important to make the chunks rather large, so the exteriors can brown before the interiors dry out.   

 The key to succulent chicken is to marinate it.  Yogurt or butter milk does a great job of keeping skinless chicken moist, succulent and full of flavor.  I prefer to marinate meats over night or at least 6 hours. I find that's the best way to infuse flavor into chicken.

I kept the menu simple, I served the shish tawook with a lemony sumac salad and grilled pita bread.  I hope you will try this recipe.   

Shish Tawook

2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons paprika
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Arabic Spice (baharat)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)


In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, yogurt, lemon juice, tomato paste and spices.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours or over night.  If you are using bamboo or wooden skewers this would be a good time to toss them in some water to prevent burning.

Before putting chicken on the grill make sure to bring it to room temperature, by removing it from the refrigerator no more than 20 minutes beforehand.  In this case, remove from the fridge, shake off any excess marinade, then skewer and set aside.  This will ensure that it cooks evenly and quickly.  

Grill over medium hot coals or until the chicken is opaque with no traces of pink, 7 minutes per side.   Serve with toasted pita bread, basmati rice or Middle Eastern Salad.

Here you will find my favorite dressing or sauce to serve with grilled meats.

Sumac Dressing

¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sumac powder 
1 large garlic clove
salt & fresh pepper to taste

Smash the garlic clove with a pinch of salt and mash using a mortar and pestle or the back of your knife until you have a paste. Add to a bowl with the lemon juice and sumac, and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with pepper.  

You can easily turn this into chicken wraps:   take one pita, spread with sumac dressing, top with romaine lettuce and few pieces of onion and chicken, wrap and enjoy!


  1. This sounds absolutely delicious. I was thinking of a middle eastern type of chicken for dinner and low & behold I found this post :) Hooray!!

  2. Great sounding. I'll bring the charcoal, what time do you want me there :)
    Thanks for a really great recipe to try this coming BBQ season.

  3. Medifast...come on over :)
    Andrea, I hope you enjoyed this dish. You can use the marinade on pork too. Enjoy!