In my first year after graduating high school, I attended to Carleton University in Ottawa. This decision was based not on their exceptional media program, nor the school’s reputation, nor a lifelong dream to live in Canada’s capital city. No, I decided to go to Carleton University because:
a) They gave me a ridiculously generous scholarship, and I’m a sucker for flattery.
b) Ottawa, Ontario was just far enough away from my hometown in coastal British Columbia to seem glamorous and exciting.
c) Carleton was the name of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s cousin. Sure, the character was a mega geek but that had to count for something.
d) When the representatives from Carleton came to my high school to make a presentation, I won a mug. It was a pretty nice mug.
Sure, in retrospect the logic seems a little shaky, but I was 16 years old when I applied, and 17 when I attended- how advanced did you want my decision making to be?
I am sure Carleton is a lovely university, and Ottawa is a lovely city, but that first year… was a disaster. It wasn’t good.
I started university the year after Ontario phased out “Grade 13.” This meant that I was 17 years old, starting school in a new city with a bunch of 19 year olds. The age difference doesn’t mean much except- of course- the fact that the drinking age in Ontario is 19. Thus, all freshman activities were held at bars, bars I could not get into. It was isolating, to say the least.
I struggled to find other 17 or 18 year olds, lurking the hallways of my residence, also edged out of the group fun but, alas, there was no one.
That’s okay, I thought. How long does that freshman novelty last anyway? I’m okay. Riiight. Except… Ottawa also happened to experience a particularly cold winter that year. Do you know what people do when it’s -40 outside for 2 weeks at a time? They go to pubs and set up camp, and they don’t come out until springtime.
Once or twice, I was able to sneak across the border into Quebec, where the drinking age was 18. I still had to borrow ID but ehhhh, they’re French, they were a little more lax over there anyway.
Between the inhumane temperatures, the social isolation and the fact that my roommate- who I had to share an actual bedroom with– was a certifiable nutjob, I had to come up with A Haunt, a place away from my room(mate). One that didn’t require ID.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with a shawarma recipe. Well… I found my Haunt. Just outside of the university walls is a hipser haven called ‘The Glebe.’ The neighbourhood reminds me a lot of Vancouver’s East Van. Antique shops, coffee shops, old theatres. It was funky and, more importantly, it was close.
I discovered a shawarma shop in The Glebe- not your typical take-out hole-in-the-wall, but an actual restaurant, with tables and glasses and ambience. For $5 I could get the largest shawarma you have ever seen and drink bottomless mint tea. After that, I would go see a double-feature at the old timey movie theatre next door.
I still remember how good and different those lovely chicken wraps were. Not quite like the take-away back home, these were made with care by the lovely Lebanese couple that ran the place.
The tartness from a good mixed pickle, a healthy layer of fresh mint, sweet, juicy tomatoes and warm, spiced meat. It’s the kind of meal you dive into headfirst, as the juices run down your hands.
A classic shawarma is made on a massive spit, and roasted over a long time, soaking up its own juices. Yes, nothing beats this, but I opted for a quicker, easier method- bbq skewers. For that reason, I’m not sure I can call this a traditional shawarma, but the spices are there.
What I do know is that a good shawarma is more than the sum of its parts. Skip the mint or the pickled onions, and it’s just not the same.
There’s probably a message hidden in there somewhere about how that year wasn’t a waste, how it helped bring me to where I am today… but I’m not going to look for it right now. If all I got from that year was a good shawarma recipe and getting to experience first-hand the sensation of having the snot in my nose freeze, well, that’s a win for ‘life experience,’ even if it wasn’t all fun.
|BBQ Chicken "Shawarma"|| |
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 lemons, juice and zest
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ⅓ cup plain yogurt
- 2 bay leaves, crushed
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
- Quick-pickled red onions:
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp whole black peppercorns
- Garlic sauce:
- 5 cloves garlic
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Pita bread
- 1 small bunch fresh parsley
- 1 small bunch fresh mint
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- Sliced banana peppers
- Mix all shawarma marinade ingredients together. Add sliced chicken and mix to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- To make the quick pickled red onions: Mix together vinegar, salt and sugar until the dry ingredients are dissolved. Place onions in a sanitized glass jar and pour vinegar over top. Add peppercorns and top up with water until all the onions are submerged. Set aside at room temperature for an hour to steep. After this, they will be ready to eat. If you're not eating them right away, pop them in the refrigerator to store.
- To make the garlic sauce, blend all ingredients together until emulsified- thick and smooth.
- Place chicken on skewers (if using wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water for at least 30 minutes first so they don't burn). Grill on BBQ until cooked through.
- To serve, remove chicken from skewers and place in a warmed pita. Top with quick-pickled red onions, garlic sauce, parsley, mint, tomatoes and banana peppers.