This super tender, super juicy, Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken with Toum (a delicious Lebanese garlic spread) and roasted cherry tomatoes is one of those fabulous meals you'll find yourself craving again and again!
If you've enjoyed our Peruvian Grilled Chicken, you're going to LOVE this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken, also known as Shish Taouk. If you've never tried the Peruvian chicken, be sure to put both of these recipes on your "must make" list as they're both incredibly delicious!
Birds of a different feather
You might be thinking that a recipe with the name, Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken, would be similar to a Grilled Chicken Shawarma (another favorite here at The Café and an icon in Middle Eastern cuisine). Nope! This one has a completely different flavor profile.
Shawarma, which is popular in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and in regions of Northern Africa, has a complex spice blend that often includes garlic, cumin, black pepper, cayenne and paprika. It also incorporates warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and/or cardamom, giving it a delicious, but unique flavor.
This Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken has a much simpler flavor profile with an easy marinade consisting of lemon juice, coriander, tomato paste and a scoop of toum.
What is Toum?
A scoop of what? Toum. Toum is a creamy, garlic-forward Middle Eastern condiment that's used as a sauce, a dip and a spread. There are lots of variations in how to make it, but I used a recipe from Bon Appétit that comes together quickly. The toum is used both in the marinade and also as a condiment for the grilled chicken. It has a nice garlic flavor without being over-the-top GARLICKY as some toum variations tend to be.
How do you make Toum?
It's a simple process, but you'll need a food processor or blender to make toum. It starts out with a few cloves of garlic, two egg whites and a splash of fresh lemon juice whirled together until smooth and frothy. Then all that's left is to add oil in a nice slow stream and season with salt. The result is a beautiful, smooth and creamy white sauce/spread that can be used for lots of things besides this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken.
Bon Appétit suggests pairing it with grilled meats, drizzling it over or serving as a spread beneath roasted veggies, using it as a dip combined with charred eggplant. It's also delicious spread on warm bread, grilled artichokes, baked potatoes, mixed into mashed potatoes, stirred into soups, pasta... Really, anything that needs a bit of garlic will be better with toum!
Toum is delicious on its own, but I like to combine it with a generous scoop of Greek yogurt to lighten it a bit.
What kind of chicken should I use for this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken?
Although I'm a huge fan of skinless, boneless chicken breasts and always have a stash in my freezer, this recipe is best with chicken thighs. Chicken breasts are too lean and won't stand up well to the marinade. Chicken thighs can stay on the grill much longer without drying out and can get a nice char on the outside while staying juicy and moist inside.
Honestly, if you're not a big chicken thigh person (I understand as that was me a few years ago), give this recipe a try. I think you'll be shocked at how moist, tender and delicious the chicken is.
An easy, super delicious pizazz!
I love to serve this Middle Eastern Chicken with homemade naan or flatbread, but I'm also including a super simple recipe for some roasted cherry tomatoes which takes this recipe up another notch. You can make these guys in 5 minutes as the chicken is resting after being grilled. Simply crank up the grill (or oven) to high (around 450), combine cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan. Roast for 5 minutes until the tomatoes are shiny and just starting to burst.
That's it! Serve them with the chicken on a blanket of the delicious toum garnished with a few lemon slices and you've got a fabulous meal that will bring lots of rave reviews.
One last note; you may have noticed another sauce in the pictures. It's called Zhoug (aka Zhug, Shug or Skhug). It's totally optional, but pairs beautifully with this meal.
It's a cilantro, parsley and jalapeño sauce that's bursting with fabulous flavor and, like toum, is super versatile and delicious. Look for that recipe, coming up soon!
Cafe Tips for making this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken with Toum (Shish Taouk)
- Because this recipe calls for chicken thighs, you don't have to be concerned about overcooking them. Turn them frequently on the grill, but don't take them off till they are nicely charred in spots. Those charred spots are amazingly delicious!
- Ground coriander is the main spice in this recipe. Ground coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, but don't worry if you're not a cilantro fan. The flavors of the seed and the fresh leaves are totally different. Savory Spice Shop describes the flavor of coriander as "citrusy with a slight sweetness and a hint of earthiness reminiscent of curry". You can find ground coriander in the spice section of most larger grocery stores. I like to buy it in bulk online as it's one of my favorite spices and you'll find it in lots of our recipes.
- Don't feel like making homemade naan or flatbread? Often I don't either. Here's a little trick to make store-bought naan come alive: simply heat a non-stick pan (large enough to accommodate your naan in a single layer) over fairly high heat. Once the pan's nice and hot, add just a touch of oil (about a half teaspoon for two average size naan). Swirl the pan to evenly distribute the oil then add the purchased naans. Heat for about 10-15 seconds then flip and heat on the second side for another 10-15 seconds. You'll be shocked at how soft, tender and puffy the naan becomes! (NO ONE needs to know that you didn't slave in the kitchen all day, making homemade naan!)
- Note, the above technique doesn't work with pocket pita, just naan and the flat round pita bread that you find at Mediterranean stores.
- I like to use the mini naan that's available at many grocery stores (including Aldi and Whole Foods). They're just the right size for a single serving.
- I tried the toum recipe with both olive oil and a neutral-flavored oil (I used safflower). Although I love olive oil in so many recipes, it is too strong for this toum. Also, when you blend olive oil in a blender or food processor for more than a few seconds, you can end up with a bitter flavor. It's quite scientific but if you're interested in why this occurs, Cook's Illustrated has a great article explaining this phenomenon. In a nutshell, I've found in recipes like this, it's better to use a neutral-flavored oil and drizzle a little olive oil over the top at the end for a pretty presentation and nice flavor touch.
- Besides serving this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken with roasted cherry tomatoes, Toum and naan, a side serving of Israeli couscous is delicious!
- You can make the toum 2 days in advance. Cover it in an airtight container and keep it refrigerated until ready to use.
- The toum recipe calls for raw egg white. Raw egg is not recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, children under four, and people with weakened immune systems. If this is a concern you can purchase pasteurized eggs at many larger grocery stores.
Thought for the day:
But as for me, the nearness of God is good for me;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
So that I may tell of all Your works.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
- 6 medium-size garlic cloves
- 2 large egg whites
- zest of one medium-size lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ cups neutral-flavored oil like grapeseed, avocado, sunflower, safflower, canola or vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon mild paprika
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2½ pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 4-6 naan warmed see Café Tips above in the post for how to make store-bought naan come alive
- fresh cilantro and/or oregano sprigs for garnish
Process garlic, egg whites, lemon zest and lemon juice in a food processor or blender until frothy and smooth. With motor running, slowly stream in half of the oil.
Scrape down the sides of the food processor then continue to blend, slowly adding the rest of the oil. The mixture should thicken and become light and airy. Season with salt, to taste. Cover and chill if not using right away.
Combine ¼ cup of the prepared toum, lemon juice, tomato paste, coriander, paprika, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large ziplock style bag. Squeeze the bag to mix the ingredients.
Slice chicken thighs into 1-inch strips lengthwise. Add to the bag with the marinade, seal bag, and massage marinade into the chicken. Chill at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat then oil the grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, folding pieces back and forth accordion-style so they pile onto themselves. Season the skewers generously with salt and fresh ground pepper.
Grill, turning occasionally until browned and beginning to char in spots, 10–12 minutes. Leave the grill on for the tomatoes.
While the chicken is resting prepare the cherry tomatoes by combining tomatoes, olives, olive oil, garlic salt and pepper on a foil-lined sheet pan.
Place sheet pan on the grill and roast tomato mixture for 5-8 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Tomatoes should be shiny, but not bursting open.
Combine ½ cup of the toum with ½ cup Greek yogurt and stirl until nice and smooth. Reserve the remaining toum for another use (see the post above). Serve chicken with pitas, toum/yogurt mixture, Zhoug (optional), lemon wedges, and fresh cilantro sprigs.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips.
Nutritional info does not include Toum.
Adapted from Bon Appetit.
I am the happiest person now that you made me discover TOUM. Every time I went to get shawarmas, I also bought the delicious roasted potatoes and they put this fluffy white garlic sauce on them. I did not know what it was but I just could not get enough of that sauce and when I saw your TOUM, I thought “COULD IT BE “THE” SAUCE?” I tried making it this morning and it is “THE” sauce!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Chris Scheuer says
I love that, Louise! Thanks for taking the time to let us know!
Great recipe - very authentic. This meal would be served it Syrian style flat bread or a unleavened type of pita or Egyptian balady bread. Naan is Indian and very soft and puffy (filling) with a different flavor profile. The recipe for the Toum-mea is spot on. I like the new addition of the zest. I lived in the ME for 3 years and love finding recipes that are close to what I ate there. Very yummy, making again for a gathering and serving all middle eastern foods. Thanks!!!
Chris Scheuer says
Thanks so much, Ann!
This recipe looks fantastic! However, I am planning on using a different toum recipe that does not call for raw egg whites. And I am going to pick up a container of zhoug at Trader Joe's to trial it before I make your recipe. Wished that I had planted cilantro this year since it looks like it will be great on everything!
Chris Scheuer says
Hope you enjoy it, Ellie!
The good thing about making your own Zhoug is that you can make it as spicy or not spicy as you like.
I'd like to make this. I couldn't find the recipe for the Zhoug. Is that posted somewhere?
Chris Scheuer says
It's coming, probably tomorrow, if I get the post done!
What a fabulous meal! We just left the thighs whole to bbq, and cut up our own at the table. We turned this into a tortilla wrap, and added feta cheese, cucumber & lettuce to the grilled tomatoes & olives. Toum is our new favourite condiment! The marinade for the chicken was also delicious! Cafe Sucrefarine never fails to impress. I’ve never made any of your recipes that weren’t outstanding!
Chris Scheuer says
Thank you so much for sharing your results, Debbie! I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe!
Lisa H. says
"An easy, super delicious pizazz!"
I misread this as "super delicious pizza" and you know, I think this chicken plus the tomatoes and olives would indeed make a super delicious pizza.
Chris Scheuer says
Haha! It would make a great pizza!
Can you use just chicken thighs without cutting them into strips?
Chris Scheuer says
Absolutely! This will work well with whole chicken thighs!
Barb Bowen says
Looks fabulous!! I see there are black olives with tomatoes..when do you add those in? Will plan to make soon! barb
Chris Scheuer says
Thanks, Barb! I have added that to the recipe. The olives are roasted with the cherry tomatoes.