If I have developed one signature dish over the last decade of running this site, I would have to say it’s the chicken and rice casserole. This easy homemade chicken shawarma recipe is just the latest mash-up in a long line of esteemed casseroles.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
It all began with this Provencal chicken and rice casserole with cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and briny nicoise olives. The Arborio rice plumped up perfectly in the same amount of time it took for the chicken to become crispy and tender. So why stop there, I asked?
In an ode to the gloppy chicken and rice casseroles of the 80’s, which mostly used canned cream of chicken or mushroom soup for thickeness and flavor, I decided to use one of my favorite Thai soups to inspire the next gen chicken and rice casserole. Tom Kha Gai is a spicy, sweet and creamy coconut milk based soup. The flavors of ginger (or galangal) and lemongrass, along with some fresh leeks and scallions, were the perfect base for another amazing casserole.
Most recently, I used another Thai dish to inspire a peanut sauce laden version: chicken satay chicken and rice casserole!
For today’s installment though, I wanted to head to the Middle East and do a variation on one of my favorite street meats: chicken shawarma.
When I was studying abroad in Rome and doing a lot of on-the-cheap European travel, I basically lived on Doner Kebab, shawarma’s Turkish cousin. I loved the texture of the marinated meat after it was stacked into a slab and slowly crisped on a spit around an open rotisserie. Topped with cubed cucumber, fresh tomatoes and slathered with white sauce, it was one of my favorite sandwiches in the world (when I could still eat warm flatbreads!).
This homemade version of shawarma obviously lacks the traditional apparatus and shave-to-order technique. But with the right shawarma seasoning in the marinade, the end result tastes similar and, it being a chicken and rice casserole and all, comes together quick and easy in the oven.
The marinade consists of fresh lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and paprika. Even with the acid, the meat can easily be assembled in advance and marinated overnight in the fridge. The spices then do double duty as you mix the remaining marinade into the raw rice mixture.
I added some zucchini to the rice since I try to add extra veggies whenever possible. I also served the casserole with the obligatory garnishes: a quick mix of cucumber and fresh tomato. The white sauce is optional, but it’s so easy to throw together–a combination of mayo, yogurt, vinegar and lemon juice–you might as well go for it. If you stick to the directed serving size, this entire meal can be low FODMAP friendly. But if you don’t care, a little minced garlic in the marinade or the sauce would be lovely.
Finally, when the whole casserole comes out of the oven, you can skip slicing the meat and serve it immediately. But I love the look of the chicken – certainly closer to a traditional shawarma – if you take the time to cut it into thin strips and arrange it on top of the rice.
Read on for the latest and greatest addition to my chicken and rice casserole hall of fame, and please let me know what dish you’d like me to draw inspiration from next!
With health and hedonism,
Chicken Shawarma Rice Casserole
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 medium zucchini cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 ¼ cup Arborio rice
- 2 cups chicken stock
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or mint divided
- 2 small Kirby cucumbers chopped (for serving)
- 2 medium plum tomatoes chopped (for serving)
Marinate the chicken: Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper flakes in a large bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the chicken and toss well to coat. Cover and store in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess and transfer to a plate.
To the bowl with the remaining marinade, add the zucchini, rice, chicken stock, and half the parsley or mint. Fold the ingredients together until well-mixed. Transfer to a 15-inch oven-proof skillet or a 9 x 13 casserole dish and arrange in an even layer. Nestle the chicken thighs in the rice mixture.
Bake the casserole for 45 minutes, or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep the topping: Toss the cucumbers and tomatoes with olive oil and salt (and a splash of lemon juice, if desired). Scatter the vegetables on top of the casserole.
Optional: if you prefer the appearance of shawarma, you can remove the chicken thighs and thinly slice them, then return to the pan.
Scatter the cucumber-tomato topping over the casserole and serve alongside white sauce (see note) and hot sauce.