This nicely spiced roast lamb shawarma is tender, aromatic, mouthwateringly delicious and with an authentic flavor that will take you on a glorious trip to the middle east. Easy to make and to-die-for, this can be a great recipe to make-ahead or for a party menu.
What is Shawarma?
Shawarma is a popular middle eastern dish prepared by stacking thin cuts of marinated meat, then slow roasting on a vertical rotisserie or spit and thinly slicing off the outer roasted layers while it continues to rotate.
Traditionally made with lamb, it is now also made with beef, veal, chicken or turkey.
Roast Lamb Shawarma
If you live far away from restaurants that serve shawarma and you crave that hugely popular middle eastern street food, then making it at home is the best solution. And this recipe is just the right fix for those cravings.
Besides, it is easy to make it ahead and freeze in bulk. It is a great option for a party menu as you can make a lot at a time to feed a crowd.
- cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, paprika, sumac. Make the spice blend in bulk to use it later.
- I also use a tiny bit of star anise and fenugreek seeds, which adds an intense element to the spice blend, but that is optional. You could also try a readymade baharat spice blend and combine with other spices/seasonings as needed.
- Ginger, Garlic, Onions, Lemon Juice
- Olive oil
- Deboned leg of lamb
What is Special about this Recipe?
- Authentic flavor with easy to find ingredients.
- Less effort and minimal prep for a dish that can feed a large gathering.
- Scoring and marination technique infuses aromas perfectly.
- Not necessary to watch over and slice meat continuously.
- Lamb is roasted fat side up initially, which helps render the fat that flows down into the pan, while roasting the meat underneath. Similar to the traditional method that uses fat layers to add juiciness and flavor to the meat.
- The thin layer of fat on top also retains juices better, while meat on the other side is kept juicy with steaming water.
- Slow roasted and basting with the juices.
- Can be made ahead and leftovers freeze well.
How to Make It
Purchase and Thaw
- Choose grass fed lamb leg that has been deboned and butterflied, and is about 4 pounds. This way the meat is like a thick sheet that can easily absorb the flavors and sliced like shawarma. Leg of lamb is more lean and tender than other cuts of lamb.
- You can ask the butcher to prepare the lamb ready for seasoning. Avoid meat cuts from overly mature livestock. Thaw the meat in the refrigerator.
Prepare the Meat
- Trim off extra fat, especially on the fat side, leaving just a thin layer. Look for thick pockets of fat on the other side and carefully slice it off.
- On the meat side make some slashes about one inch deep in the thickest parts, to increase the surface area for marination. Flip over and make some slashes on the fat side, that are not too deep, barely going through the fat layer.
Season and Marinate
- Grind all the spices into a fine powder in a spice grinder. Combine the shawarma spice mix with grated ginger and garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
- Apply 2/3 of the spice paste onto the seam side, rubbing into the slashes. Use the remaining marinade on the fat side evenly.
- Marinate few hours to overnight.
Cooking Time: Varies with the number of pounds and age of the animal. Typically 30 minutes of roasting time for each pound and a little extra overall. About 2 to 21/2 hours for a 4 pound butterflied lamb leg. The meat should be cooked fork tender but do not overcook it.
Roast the Lamb Meat
- Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting.
- Scatter onions slices in the roasting pan and place a rack over that. Then place the marinated lamb leg, fat side up, over the rack and pour some water in the pan. Cover and bake for about 1½ hours.
- Baste the lamb with the juices collected in the pan.
- Without lid, roast the fat side until golden brown on the top.
- Flip the butterflied lamb leg and place it seam side up. Brush with juices.
- Roast until meat has a golden brown crust on the other side too. It is well done, when the meat is fork tender but don’t roast until it disintegrates. Let it rest for some minutes before cutting. That will retain the juices better and make it firmer.
Well done or rare? Unlike roast lamb, which may be served medium rare, medium or well done, shawarma is served well done.
Roasting Internal Temperature: Roast the lamb until the thickest part of the meat registers a minimum temperature of 165ºF and the juices run clear. The cooking temperature will continue to rise for about 10 minutes after removing from the oven.
Slice the Shawarma
- Using a sharp knife cut thin slices against the grain. Save the juices from the roasting pan to use for reheating or drizzle on the meat while making sandwiches.
How to Serve it
- Serve shawarma with flatbread such as barbari, sliced vegetables (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, onions), tahini sauce (recipe notes below), hot sauce, pickles and tomato cucumber salad.
- Any middle eastern rice or couscous dish. Some suggestions: Baghali Polo or Simple Couscous with Yogurt Shallot Dip.
Lamb Nutrition Facts
Lamb is a great source of high quality protein and vitamin B-12. It also provides niacin, selenium, zinc, phosphorus and Iron.
It is recommended that red meats, such as lamb should be consumed in moderation, since a diet rich in red meats can increase the risk of certain chronic diseases.
Choose grass fed lamb as it is more lean and a relatively better source of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, both of which are associated with good health benefits
Other Lamb Recipes:
- Braised Lamb Shanks
- Moroccan Lamb Stew
- Lamb Tagine with Mushrooms and Olives
- Kabob Koobideh
- Ghormeh Sabzi
- Kotlet (Persian Meat Patties)
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Roast Lamb Shawarma
- 1 tbsp grated ginger or 1 tsp ground dry ginger
- 6 cloves garlic grated
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 lb leg of lamb boneless, butterflied
- 1 onion large, sliced
- 2 cups water
- Roasting Pan
PREPARE THE MEAT
- On the fat side, trim off excess, leaving just a thin layer. On the other side, slice off any thick pockets of fat.
- Make one inch deep slashes in the thickest parts on the seam side. Flip over and score on the fat side, barely going through the fat layer.
SEASON AND MARINATE
- Pat the lamb dry and coat 2/3 of spice paste onto the seam side, rubbing into the slashes. Spread rest of the marinade on the fat side evenly.
- Cover and place it in the refrigerator to marinate few hours to overnight.
ROAST THE LAMB
- Preheat oven at 350ºF.
- Let the marinated meat sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting.
- Scatter onion slices in the roasting pan and place a rack over that. Transfer the meat, fat side up, over the rack. Pour two cups of water in the base of the pan. Cover and bake for about 1½ hours.
- Then remove the lid. Baste the lamb with the juices collected in the bottom of the pan.
- Roast the fat side until golden brown on the top.
- Flip the lamb meat and place it seam side up. Brush with pan juices and roast until meat has a golden brown crust on this side too. Roasting both sides should take an additional 30 to 60 minutes.
- It is well done, when the meat is fork tender but don’t roast until it disintegrates. Place a lid ajar and let it rest for about 20 minutes before cutting. That will retain the juices better and make it firmer.
SLICE THE MEAT
- Transfer the roasted lamb leg meat to a carving board to slice.
- Preparation: Leg of lamb should be butterflied or have your butcher do that for you.
- Cooking time: It takes about 30 minutes of roasting time for each pound and a little extra overall. About 2 to 21/2 hours for a 4 pound lamb leg.
- Well done or rare? Unlike roast lamb, which may be served medium rare, medium or well done, shawarma is served well done.
- Cooking temperature:
- Roast the lamb until the thickest part of the meat registers a minimum temperature of 165ºF and the juices run clear.
- The cooking temperature will continue to rise for about 10 minutes after removing from the oven.
- Spice Blend:
- Roasting spices is optional but will give an intense aroma.
- Also, star anise and fenugreek give an intense flavor but is optional.
- Scale up the spice amounts and make it in bulk for later use.
- If you don’t have whole spices, then use the ground spices in applicable amounts.
- Tahini Sauce: Process together 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1/3 cup tahini, 2/3 cup whole milk Greek yogurt, 1 tsp mint and salt as per taste.
- Make Ahead: It can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days or can be frozen for at least a month. Save the juices and use for basting while reheating.
- Slow cooker: Cook for about 8 to 10 hours depending on the temperature setting. Broil it in the oven for a nice crust. Baste with the pan juices.
- For more tips, check out the blog post above.
- Nutrition facts are approximate.