Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Shawarma
Soak up the flavorful juices of these Mediterranean-spiced chicken skewers by resting them on grilled pita during the final stages of cooking in this dish from Ana Sortun, who uses yogurt's natural acidity to tenderize tough cuts of meat. Get the recipe for Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Shawarma ». Michael Turek

Certain types of dairy, particularly buttermilk and yogurt, have just the right amount of acid to gently break down meat’s tougher fibers when added to marinades. “But the real reason I love yogurt is that it has a mild amount of sugar,” says James Beard Award-winning chef Ana Sortun, who runs the beloved Mediterranean restaurant Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It enhances the flavor of the meat, with just a little sweetness, but won’t burn on the grill.” Papaya, pineapple, grapefruit, and grated onion are other underused marinade ingredients that will simultaneously tenderize and add flavor.

Featured in: The New Grilling Essentials

Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Shawarma Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Shawarma
The underused marinade ingredient (at least in America), yogurt, adds tang as it tenderizes. Here, it works it’s lactic magic on an easy chicken kebab dinner.
Yield: serves 4
Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


  • 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 34 cups full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 12 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 tbsp. ground allspice
  • 1 12 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 12 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small white onion, grated
  • Skewers, for grilling
  • 4 pita breads
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 12 cup minced cucumber
  • 12 cup frozen, thawed, chopped spinach
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. dried mint
  • 12 bulb fennel, outer layers discarded, cored and finely chopped
  • Sumac, for garnish


  1. Combine chicken, 14 cup yogurt, 12 cup oil, 1 tbsp. pepper, the allspice, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt, 34 of the garlic, and the onion in a bowl; cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until ready to use.
  2. Build a medium-heat fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. (Alternatively, heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high.) Thread chicken on skewers, discarding marinade; season with salt and pepper. Grill chicken, turning as needed, until charred and almost cooked through, about 10 minutes; remove from grill. Place pita on grill and top with skewers; grill until pita is slightly charred and chicken is cooked through, 8–10 minutes more. Transfer pita to a cutting board and let chicken skewers rest on top for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining garlic and the lemon juice in a bowl; let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in remaining yogurt and oil, the cucumber, spinach, fresh and dried herbs, fennel, salt, and pepper. Garnish shawarma with sumac and serve with yogurt sauce.

Pairing Note: “The citrus notes of the 2012 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling ($19; wiemer.com or 607-243-7971), from Finger Lakes, New York, complement the tanginess of the yogurt.”—Vilma Mazaite, director of wine at laV; Austin, Texas