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Fish Shawarma Sandwich

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Recipe By Joumana Accad

A legacy of the Ottomans (they ruled for centuries over the Middle East till the end of WWI), beef (or lamb) and chicken shawarma are commonplace in Lebanon; nearly every neighborhood is decked with at least one shawarma stand, often open and busy till at least midnight, churning out thousands of juicy sandwiches to hungry passers-by.

Shawarma comes from the root verb shawa, which means “to grill” in Arabic; the rotating skewers grill the meat next to an open flame. Slices of meat are piled on top of each other and the top layer is a large piece of fat which melts slowly and protects the slices from getting dry.

This recipe is a take on the ubiquitous Lebanese shawarma; except that here, fish is used and it is grilled quickly (or pan-fried) after marinating in olive oil and spices; the fish is served in a warm pita slathered with a special tarator sauce, some tomato and avocado slices and some pickles and fresh herbs.

The flavor in this recipe is reminiscent of a famous spiced fish dish, samkeh harra which originated in Tripoli, the second largest coastal town in Lebanon. Samkeh harra is a glorious buffet-style dish served at banquets and large celebrations, and composed of a large five pound sea bass encased in a tahini sauce and an herb stuffing with garlic and chili peppers. Here this is a speedy (but no less delicious) sandwich that can be eaten on the go.


  • 4 fish fillets of your choice
  • ½ cup of tahini (4 ounces, 125 ml)
  • ½ cup of fresh lemon juice (4 ounces, 125 ml)
  • 3 (or more, to taste) cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup of walnuts, crushed
  • 1 bunch of cilantro or dill or flat-parsley
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 large avocado
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Spices:
    • 2 teaspoons of sumac
    • 1½ teaspoon of ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
    • Pinch of cinnamon
    • Pinch of salt
    • Dash of chili flakes


    1. Mix all the spices and sprinkle on the fish fillets, both front and back. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and set the fillets aside. Crush the garlic with a dash of salt in a mortar until pasty. Transfer to a bowl, add the tahini and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and stir, add up to ½ cup of water and stir constantly until the tarator is smooth. Keep in mind you want it fairly thick and not too watery, so always add the water gradually, checking the texture and taste and adjust if needed.
    2. Grill the fish or pan-fry in some olive oil until the fish is done. While the fish is cooking, slice the tomatoes, avocados and onions if using. Open each pita, slather with tarator, sprinkle some crushed walnuts, extra herbs, place the fish in the bread, add the tomato slices and avocado slices and serve.

NOTE: The tarator is a sauce that you can adjust according to your taste; more garlic or lemon juice? Sure! Anything goes! (tarator=tahini sauce)

Reminder: The ingredients in a recipe determine if it should be eaten every day, some days, or on special occasions. It's up to you and you doctor to determine what can be part of a healthy diet for you and any special needs you may have.

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Photo by Flicker user mollycakes / CC BY-NC 2.0

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