Recipe: Chicken Shawarma

Recipe: Chicken Shawarma
By Jenny Osburn | The Union Street Cafe Cookbook |

I went back to school last month at Central Kings Rural High! It was time to take the lessons I learned improving school lunch at Berwick’s primary-grade 8 school and apply them to a new challenge. I have to say it was daunting to walk into a new environment after getting so cozy at Berwick, but again the administration and cafeteria staff were incredibly welcoming, friendly, and ready for change. We got straight to work with a fantastic group of students chopping a slew of vegetables for a free “try-it!” salad bar day. With roasting pan after roasting pan of local sweet potatoes, turnips, and beets, I had my fingers crossed that someone would actually eat them, and they did! These days the serve-yourself salad bar is offered with every lunch special and is attracting students and staff alike.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but whoever told us that there’s nothing we can do to fix school food, or that kids won’t eat vegetables and other healthy foods, was wrong. Yes, it’s scary to strip away the high-profit junk-food mainstays that many believe we need to serve to keep our cafeterias afloat, but we’ve got to ask ourselves what our priorities are.

Focussing on a simple, delicious, locally-sourced quality menu and providing secure employment and training for our cafeteria workers has to be on the top of that list as we engage community and government to help us in our efforts. Even more importantly, schools must find ways to ensure that every student can eat lunch at school, whether or not their families can pay for it and without stigma or shame. Along with many others, I’m hard at work to pilot a confidential pay-what-you-can program so we can make this happen in the Annapolis Valley.

We invest SO much money in education in Nova Scotia. We need to devote at least a teeny portion of the budget to making sure school food is nourishing and gives students their best chance of attaining that education.

Meanwhile, I’ll be at Central Kings for the month of April, pitching in to offer students some exciting new items like butter chicken, build-your-own subs, egg roll bowls, and a breakfast bar! I’m also compiling a free resource full of recipes and menu ideas that I’m sharing with all interested parents, cafeteria workers, community groups, and school principals. If you want it, just send me an email at

Here’s a taste of what we’re cooking up at school these days:

Chicken Shawarma Wraps

Makes 10 wraps

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or a mix of the two)

To serve:
10 whole wheat tortillas or pitas
garlic sauce
pickled turnip
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
diced red onion.

Combine the garlic, olive oil, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, and salt in a large baking pan. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Pat into an even layer and marinate overnight. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the chicken until internal temperature is at least 180° F.

Use a bench scraper or a knife to cut the cooked chicken in the pan into small pieces. Serve ¼ cup per serving on pitas with garlic sauce, pickled turnips, lettuce, tomato and sliced red onions.

Garlic Sauce
(makes enough for 10 pitas)

1/2 C mayonnaise
1/2 C plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

Whisk all the ingredients together and store refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Pink Pickled Turnip
(makes enough for 10 pitas)

1 1/2 C water
1 Tbsp salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 C white vinegar
1 lb. turnip, peeled and cut into ½ inch sticks
1 small beet, cut into small chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly

Bring the water, salt, and bay leaves to a boil. Let cool, then add the vinegar. Place the turnip, beets, and garlic in a sealable container and pour the brine over. Refrigerate for at least a week before using.

Jenny Osburn is the author of The Union Street Café Cookbook. Her second collaboration with Laura MacDonald of Deep Hollow Print, The Kitchen Party Cookbook, is now available! Find more recipes at and see what she’s up to on instagram at jenny.osburn