Spicy Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Copycat Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce

It didn’t take long for Patrick, the grey beponytailed owner of Rockland’s long-shuttered “Second Read Books & Coffee,” to notice that I didn’t seem to be quite as stoned as my 16-year-old contemporaries. And for a kid my age, that seemed to be the major qualifier needed to graduate from “Dishwasher” to “Prep Cook” in the Summer of 1995.

I was thrilled. Sure, I still had to do the dishes for the coffee-and-sandwich business that shared real estate with the front of the used bookstore, but when I caught a break, I’d get to work on my other new culinary duties. It was the kind of work that only teenagers think of as a promotion: baking bagels and scones, assembling soup stocks, and roasting red peppers and eggplant under the tutelage of an amazing pair of female chefs who taught me how to properly dice an onion and gut a green pepper, as well as how to ask a girl to the prom and more fully appreciate the music of the Talking Heads.

Spicy Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Copycat Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce

The first two dishes that I was really left alone to prep were, given the hippyish nature of both the shop and its owners, a tabbouleh salad (which I always added far too much lemon juice to in order to make the grains palatable) and a scratch-made hummus, that would be spread on sandwiches where every sane person knew mayonnaise should be.

After spending a hot summer watching tourists and used-book buying beatnicks eating hummus by the bucketful, I never developed much of a taste for the stuff. It never struck me as particularly bad, I just never understood the enthusiasm that seemed to grip my otherwise-reasonable friends in the mid-2000s, when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a basket full of roasted garlic hummus served with little precious triangles of pita bread. If you were lucky, the pita would be warmed. And if you were VERY VERY lucky, it might even be grilled.

For a while, and even before the current wave of gluten-free hysteria, the chickpea puree was everywhere. Want to dress up that pedestrian sandwich? Hummus. What do we feed the newborn? Hummus. Not sure what to serve at a party? Hummus. Friends that I had my entire life were suddenly trotting out hummus with a level of pride I thought reserved for major scientific discovery, all smiles and knowing looks around the room. “Oh, where did you get this hummus,” someone would inevitably ask, “Is it store-bought or did you make it yourself or can we talk about tahini for five full agonizing minutes?”

Spicy Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Copycat Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce

Everything changed the moment I had hummus in an honest-to-goodness Lebanese restaurant, instead of in some twentysomething’s basement apartment. Have an amazing bowl of hummus once, and you’ll be chasing that high for the rest of your life. Finally, I feel like I’ve joined the rest of the world, and now I get to sample every flavor of hummus under the sun, as I marvel at how bright and nutty and delicious it manages to be. It’s like I’ve finally been invited to a party that everyone else has already been attending for a long, long time, and I’m double-fisting to try and get caught up.

My current favorite use of hummus is in these chicken kebab sandwiches, spread with homemade hummus and garlic sauce, then stuffed with lettuce, tomato, and a few pieces of smoky yogurt marinated chicken. Specifically, the garlic sauce is a copycat of the sauce served at Zankou Chicken, a Lebanese chain in Los Angeles famous primarily for serving incredibly delicious chicken and for being named in the lyrics of one of Beck’s best songs, and not at all for the founders’ turbulent and often violent family history (which even includes an incident that rhymes with “Bubble Momicide”).

Finally, just to throw any and all remaining geographic authenticity out the window, I throw a few shakes of Tapatio hot sauce over the whole thing to add spice and vinegar to the proceedings. The finished sandwich is satisfying, potently flavorful, and something that I could eat every single day of my new hummus-lovin’ life.

Spicy Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Copycat Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce

Spicy Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Copycat Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce (Toum)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Ingredients
For the chicken kebabs:
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Harrissa spice blend
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1½-inch cubes
For the hummus:
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • ½ cup tahini
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt, to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil mixed with ¼ cup warm water
For the Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce (Toum):
  • ½ cup fresh garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups neutral oil (like canola or grapeseed)
To assemble sandwiches:
  • 4 pieces of pita bread, whole
  • 4 crisp romaine leaves
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • A few dashes of hot sauce
Method
For the chicken kebabs:
  1. In a bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, oil, ginger, salt, Harrissa, garlic, and black pepper. Place chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour in marinade and seal bag, removing as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 4 to 8 hours.
  2. Thread chicken tightly onto skewers.
  3. Place on rack on baking sheet, and broil until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer skewers to platter and let rest for five minutes.
For the hummus:
  1. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Mix up the tahini, which may have separated. Combine chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and cumin in the bowl of a food processor. Blend, slowly pouring in oil and water blend until desired consistency.
For the Zankou Chicken Garlic Sauce (Toum):
  1. Combine garlic and salt in food processor, and pulse until very fine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
  2. In a very thin, slow stream, pour ½ cup of oil into the food processor while it is running. Then, slowly add two teaspoons of lemon juice. Turn off, then scrape down the side of the bowl. Turn the food processor back on, then continue alternating oil and lemon juice in very slow, steady streams and stopping occasionally to scrape down the bowl. The mixture will turn fluffy and white.
  3. Transfer to a bowl, then cover with a paper towel and refrigerate for about 12 hours, chilling the sauce completely and removing some of the moisture which would cause the sauce to separate if covered immediately with the airtight lid. Flavor will soften after a few days, and sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.
To assemble sandwiches:
  1. Spread each piece of pita with hummus, then top with one leaf of lettuce, a few pieces of chicken, and diced tomato. Add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce, and serve, spreading garlic sauce on each bite.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

7 Comments

  1. Oh mah gah! This is awesome. That super-garlicky aioli-type sauce? GIMME. Just spent some time catching up on what y’all have been posting and it’s wonderful, as usual! I’m on a major Lebanese food kick as well recently. Bravo!

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  2. I’ve done a lot of hummus research myself after visiting Israel and one thing I found was whipping up the Tahini and lemon juice in the blender or food processor 1st before adding the rest of the ingredients so that it is quite light and fluffy. Then add the chickpeas and 1/4 cup of water and whip that up and then add the rest of the ingredients. Add more water as needed to make it very smooth and light. Many recipes advise holding the olive oil till the end and just drizzling it over the hummus in a spiral pattern after you have it on the plate. Also adding cooled, roasted garlic instead of fresh for a more mellow flavor.

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