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Chicken shawarma in a bowl is a tasty, healthy meal

With some advance prep, this easy chopped chicken shawarma bowl makes a quick weeknight dinner.  (Tribune News Service)
By Gretchen McKay Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Protein bowls are appealing for many reasons, the biggest of which is they’re incredibly versatile.

Whether you top them with a lean meat like roasted chicken or a fatty, good-for-you fish like salmon – or opt for a vegetarian source of protein such as tofu or canned chickpeas – bowls can fill you up with countless combinations, while also making you feel great about how well you’re eating.

Plus, they’re easy to assemble on a busy weeknight or quick lunch break, without the need for any fancy-pants equipment. Besides its namesake dish, all that’s really required to create the perfect lunch or dinner bowl is a cutting board for all the chopping (of toppings) and a small bowl for a bit of mixing (of sauce).

Start with a base of rice, quinoa, farro or another grain. Or choose a sturdy, leafy green such as spinach, Romaine lettuce or baby kale. After the chosen protein, pile on whatever crunchy vegetables are killing time in your fridge, add a healthy fat such as feta cheese and sliced avocado or a handful of nuts or seeds. Then, drizzle it with a yogurt-based sauce, vinaigrette or squeeze of lemon.

This recipe, which was adapted from a similar dish that showed up on my social media feed, features aromatic, Mediterranean-style chicken shawarma cooked in a loaf pan with red onion and then shredded. Chickpeas and assorted veggies complete the combo, along with a generous scoop of white rice.

If you prepare the grains and chop the toppings while the chicken thighs are roasting, you’ll only need about five minutes to pull it all together come meal time. Sweet!

Chicken Shawarma Bowl

For chicken:

2 pounds boneless chicken thigh, fat trimmed

2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

Juice 1 lemon

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash of ground nutmeg

1/2 large or 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

For bowl:

1 1/2 cups cooked white or brown rice

1 cup whole canned chickpeas

2 small cucumbers, sliced into half-moons

1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped

1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

Chopped parsley, for garnish

For sauce:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Prepare chicken: Trim fat off chicken thighs, season generously with salt and pepper and place in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil.

In small bowl, mix yogurt and lemon juice, then add to bowl with chicken and toss to combine with a rubber spatula.

In another bowl, combine thyme, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to pan with chicken, and toss well to combine. (Feel free to add more or less of any particular seasoning.)

Add sliced onion to bowl, toss to combine and then allow to marinate for an hour or up to a day in the fridge. Or you can place it in a loaf pan and cook it right away.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees, and bring chicken mixture up to room temperature (if it’s been in the fridge). Pack chicken and onions into a loaf pan, then cook in hot oven for 45-55 minutes (instant thermometer should read 160 degrees.)

While chicken is cooking, prepare rice according to package directions, drain and rinse chickpeas and chop vegetables. Prepare sauce by mixing together yogurt, garlic, dill and lemon juice, then set aside.

When chicken is done, drain excess juices from the pan and flip the loaf pan onto a cutting board. Cut the meat into thin strips or chunks.

Assemble bowls with a scoop of rice, 1/4 cup chickpeas, sliced vegetables and feta. Add chopped chicken, then drizzle with sauce. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired, and serve. Use leftover chicken (there will be plenty) for a salad or sandwich the next day,

Yield: 4 servings