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A Spicy, Smoky Shawarma-Inspired Sheet Pan Dinner

Nearly three years ago Molly Wizenberg wrote a blog post on Parmesan-roasted cauliflower, a recipe she discovered from Bon Appétit one that, as the magazine promised, would become her go-to. The process is simple: Toss a head of cauliflower florets, a few unpeeled garlic cloves, and a sliced onion with olive oil, salt and a few thyme sprigs. Roast in a hot oven, and after 30 minutes, when everything—the florets, the onions, the garlic—begins caramelizing, sprinkle it with Parmesan and cook until the cheese melts, forming what Molly describes as “lacy, frico-like webs and shards.”

Sheet Pan Chicken and Cauliflower "Shawarma"
Sheet Pan Chicken and Cauliflower “Shawarma”
by Alexandra Stafford

Molly offers a few ideas on how to serve the cauliflower, including tossing it with pasta or spooning it into bowls and topping with a fried egg. She also notes you could just eat it, and “call it a meal,” the title of her post. For years, I called it a side dish, and rarely strayed from the recipe. But since discovering the beauty of the sheet pan supper, I used the recipe as a jumping-off point, adding spices to change the flavor, and chicken to make it a more complete meal.

Whole spices = more flavor (aka what you want).
Photos by Alexandra Stafford

The seasonings in my recent variation evoke shawarma, a Middle Eastern street food typically prepared on a vertical rotisserie with lamb or chicken, which cooks for hours. Everything comes together in about the same amount of time as the original recipe, the only additional work being making a spice mix and buying chicken. It’s simple: First, rub the cauliflower and onions with a mix of toasted cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Roast for 30 minutes, then add boneless, skinless chicken thighs (rubbed in the same spice mix) to the sheet pan, and cook for 10 minutes more. By the end, just as in the original recipe, the cauliflower and onions caramelize, becoming meltingly tender and irresistibly sweet. As the chicken thighs cook, moreover, they release their juices, which seep into the vegetables, making them even tastier.   

Serve this mix of smoky, spicy chicken and vegetables with naan and a lemony yogurt sauce, and call it a meal—a new go-to sheet pan meal.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

  • If you have a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, toasting whole cumin and coriander seeds will impart better flavor—fresher, smokier, earthier—than pre-ground. This step requires just a few more minutes of time and effort, but the scent and flavor are worth it. I also like the visual appeal as well as the texture of the partially crushed seeds coating the vegetables and meat.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts could be substituted for the thighs (see notes in recipe for cooking times).

  • This could certainly be made vegetarian by omitting the chicken—the spiced onions and cauliflower are irresistible on their own. You could use a mix of cauliflower, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, or any of your favorite roasting vegetables.

  • Some sort of sauce is essential. A cooling Greek yogurt sauce, whose tang so nicely complements the sweet vegetables, works particularly well here, but you could also use a tahini sauce or an herby sauce with a good amount of acidity.  

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Sheet Pan Chicken and Cauliflower “Shawarma”

By Alexandra Stafford

  • Neutral oil, for greasing

  • 1
    large head cauliflower (about 2.5 lbs pre trimming), cut into florets, large florets halved or quartered if necessary (see photo above as a reference)

  • 1
    large onion, sliced

  • 5
    tablespoons olive oil, divided

  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste

  • 1
    tablespoon whole cumin seeds or ground cumin, see notes above

  • 1
    tablespoon whole coriander seeds or ground coriander, see notes

  • 2
    teaspoons smoked paprika

  • 1/2
    teaspoon cayenne

  • 2
    cloves garlic, minced

  • 6
    boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1.5 lbs.

  • Lemon wedges, naan, and yogurt sauce (see notes) for serving

View Full Recipe

What’s your go-to sheet pan meal? Tell us in the comments!

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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