Recipe: Trader Joe’s Chicken Schawarma Thighs

On a busy week-night, I want food fast, easy and with as little fuss as possible.  Trader Joe’s chicken schawarma thighs fill the bill nicely. Schawarma is essentially an olive oil marinade with the essential ingredients of turmeric, onion, paprika and garlic, with some lemon and vinegar for acidity. Trader Joe’s version is not quite as delicious as, say, this NYT recipe, but for something I can throw in the oven for half an hour at 400 degrees F? Hey, this is my go-to meal for tired days. My picky son loves it (though he won’t eat the mushrooms).

Turmeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory root with a delicate flavor.  Trader Joe’s almond butter and turmeric salad dressing reminds me slightly of Thai peanut sauce — but without the overpowering sweetness. I added it to this recipe to give it a creamy finish.

I pair this with Trader Joe’s reduced carb tortillas, two colors of peppers, onions and mushrooms– and baby spinach — and I have a fast meal that is almost restaurant quality. It’s kind of like a soft taco or a loose “wrap.”   To be honest, my son is no fan of vegetables (especially not mushrooms).  I often make the garnish just for myself, halving the amount of peppers, onion and mushrooms in the recipe below if it’s just him and me.

This recipe makes about five “tacos.”

What You Need:

The Chicken:
1 package of Trader Joe’s chicken schawarma thighs
1 lemon, cut in halves (optional)

The Garnish:
1 red bell pepper
1 orange pepper
1/2 onion
2-4 fresh white mushrooms (optional)
1 pat of butter
2 tablespoons of oil oil
1/4 tsp turmeric (or a good sprinkle)
1/4 tsp paprika (or a good sprinkle)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup (or a good handful) of baby spinach

Trader Joe’s Reduced Carb Tortillas
a spray can of coconut oil  (optional) — You can substitute spray olive oil or other oil as well.

Salad dressing (optional) – My personal preferences are Trader Joe’s “Almond Butter Turmeric” salad dressing or “Gorgonzola Pear Champagne Vinagrette”

The Prep

  1. First I preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. , then I start prepping the ingredients. This isn’t entirely throw the meat in the oven and forget it!

2. I remove the chicken from the package and cut the thighs into similarly sized, smaller pieces.   They come packaged together, with about three large thighs and a couple of smaller thigh pieces.  I cut each large thigh into about four pieces.  The smaller pieces can usually be cut into half and then they’re all mostly the same size — so they will cook in around the same time.

3. I put aluminum foil on a broiler pan and set the pieces on the foil.  I often squeeze half a lemon over all the pieces, to wake up the flavor, before putting it in the oven when the temperature hits the mark.   The thigh pieces will cook in about thirty minutes.

The Garnish

4. While the chicken’s in the oven, put the pat of butter in a saute pan, along with the olive oil. Turn on medium heat, letting the butter melt. Add paprika and turmeric to the oil while its heating.

5. Chop the onion into a small dice (small pieces) and mince the garlic.  Add to the pan. Cook on medium heat and let those onions brown.

6. Chop the red and orange pepper, (and the  mushrooms if using).  Add to the pan.

7. Saute the peppers and mushrooms with the onions and garlic in the oil/butter/spice mixture over medium heat for about five minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.

8. Add the baby spinach. Cook til it just wilts–that takes less than a minute!   Take the saute pan off the heat and set it aside. I keep the garnish in the pan while I work on the tortillas.

Prepare the Tortillas

9. I use a grill pan or a skillet, heating it up to a medium high temperature.

10.  I spray each tortilla on each side with coconut oil and put them on the hot grill pan, about a minute on each side. They should get a nice hot scorch mark on them, but not much!   Set aside.

11. When the chicken comes out, assemble them like tacos:  a spoonful of garnish, three to four pieces of chicken per “taco.”

12. I add a small squeeze of lemon or often, a small spoonful (or “dollop” ) of salad dressing before eating. My favorites are Trader Joe’s pear gorgonzola salad dressing or the the especially lovely almond butter turmeric salad dressing.

The Salad Version

If you’re not a fan of the tortilla idea, you can put all of this on top of fresh greens for a wonderful salad.  I do this with leftovers of this recipe — if there are any (often not!). That takes off a few net carbs.

The Nutritional Info:

Trader Joe’s Chicken Schawarma (from the package):

Serving size 4 oz (112g) | Amount per serving: Calories 160
Total Fat 7g (9% DV), Saturated Fat 1.5g (8% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 100mg (33% DV), Sodium 440mg (19% DV), Total Carbohydrate 3g (1% DV), Dietary Fiber 0g (0% DV), Total Sugars 0g—Includes 0g Added Sugars (0% DV), Protein 21g, Vitamin D 0mcg (0% DV), Calcium 20mg (0% DV), Iron 1.2mg (6% DV), Potassium 290mg (6% DV).

The Trader Joe’s Reduced Carb Tortillas
Serving: 1 tortilla | Calories: 10 | Total Fat: 1.5g | Total Carbs: 10g (7g fiber, 0g sugar) | Protein: 4g

<Trader Joe’s Almond Butter Turmeric Dressing (serving 1 tbsp).

Yes, it has a little cane sugar in it (it’s the fifth ingredient) but the rest of the ingredients are pretty good for you– almond butter, ginger, turmeric, black pepper and lemon juice — 4g of fat, carbohydrates, 4g, fiber 1g,  2g of sugar and 2g of protein in a tablespoon.

Here’s my admittedly rough calculations for my two tacos:
Chicken: 6 g net carbs
Tortillas: 6 g net carbs
Salad dressing: 6 net carbs
Peppers:  about 2.5 g carbs
Onions: about 2 g net carbs
Spinach: 2 g net carbs
Mushrooms: 1 g net carbs

This gives me a total carb accounting for this meal at 25.5 net carbs.



Book Review: Dirty, Lazy Keto

What’s dirty, lazy keto?  I have to admit, I was so curious about the dirty part! 😀  Dirty, Lazy Keto  is a new “mini-guide” to keto by Stephanie Laska.   It’s one of those books where there is a Guy behind it (in this case a Gal) with her own version of keto,  her own website, Facebook group and Instagram.  Published in 2018, it’s a new thing (already available on Kindle Unlimited for free), a cheap, self-published book.  Nothing wrong with that–it just explains some of the quality issues.  I have to say, I didn’t want to like her or this book. 🙂  Skinny blondes tend to annoy me ( a personal bias). But I do like her spunk, her attitude toward the Keto Police, and her attitude toward keto.

Perhaps because she was not always skinny, nor blonde, that she began to grow on me as I read her stuff.

Dirty, Lazy Keto: The Blog and the Book.

The blog , DirtyLazyKeto.Com, is somewhat better than the book.   The book meanders in the first pages (and repeats itself).  The book needs editing in the first couple of chapters.   The blog, however, clearly and concisely sums up her approach right from the start.

She writes:

The traditional ketogenic diet is strict. Twenty carbs per day max. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda are frowned upon by the keto police, so fat bombs, Diet Coke, and HALO ice cream are definitely out of the question (who invited THAT guy to the party?) Of course, I’m speaking generally here. I’m sure there are exceptions, but that’s pretty much the gist of keto. Traditionalists take their keto commitment to the next level by monitoring not only their intake of fat, carbohydrate, and protein grams, but also count calories. Most utilize apps that generate tidy graphs to show off meeting personalized nutritional goals. Needless to say, this sounds like a lot of work (not to mention those graphs are super annoying by people bragging on Facebook).

Sometimes a girl just needs a Diet Coke. Please don’t call the keto police!

Perhaps that trash talk about the keto Traditionalists may be a bit harsh. I have not experienced personally those Lost Souls who also count calories–as well as fat, carb and proteins. Most keto enthusiasts are not calorie-counters.  But I have experienced the painful bragging and app-wielding discourses that can gradually turn into hair-pulling, snarling cat-fights over nothing.

Laska goes on to explain:

Lazy keto followers believe in the keto lifestyle, but say to hell with all that tracking business. Before you rush to any judgement, understand these folks can be just as successful as strict keto. Lazy keto doesn’t mean they are relaxing by the pool somewhere. Rather, “lazy” is just a coined term that describes a way of focusing on carb count only (not fat, protein or calories). Lazy keto dieters usually aren’t documenting every bite they eat with some little calculator or app. In general, lazy keto followers choose lower carb, higher fat foods to enjoy while staying “under” or “around” their carb goals/limits for the day.

Hmm.  That’s close to my own approach! And what about the dirty part?

Laska gives us the “dirt” on the “dirty”:

So, what is all this “dirty” business about? Is there some X-rated version of keto out there in cyber space? (Probably). Oh, we are a fun group, but not THAT kind of fun. Dirty keto dieters like to break the rules now and again with our ingredient choices. We are open to using sugar and grain substitutes to make a recipe feel more “like we are used to” and not afraid of artificial anything. We are wild and crazy in that regard! We may not be strict, but… SURPRISE, we are sustainable and successful!

Have I found my tribe?

Dirty Keto is a thing

I went on over and joined the Facebook group. It currently has over 4K members, with three admins and a moderator.  It averages 72 posts a day — and it’s only six months old.  That’s a pretty healthy community. Facebook then recommended other groups (as it does): dirty keto (with 7,100 members) and dirty keto for beginners (with 3,896 members). Huh.  This is a New thing–not something that I was at all aware of when I began this journey in 2012.

Back to The Book

Laska is fun and often funny.  And she seems to be really kind.   The book itself is uneven in quality; Laska has a master’s degree in education, not a master’s degree in writing. All the photographs in the book– every single one — are pictures of her and her husband, with the younglings scattered about.  But the writing style is breezy and yes, entertaining.  Her explanations of the key terms are sound and sensible.

This is a good guide for anyone considering keto.  By chapter 3, I was lovin’ Ms. Stephanie to pieces.  She was also pretty lucky. Losing ten pounds a month is an amazing result. She admits to having been a ridiculously high consumer of carbohydrate before starting keto.  Pasta, bread, cereal and rice were her staples.  She’s under 40, I would guess and no longer having babies (that really messes with body chemistry!)

Laska also went very low carb: 20-50 grams of net carbohydrate a day. I personally have never had that kind of willpower or control over my food.  When it’s that low-carb, it is definitely keto.

Net carbs are the number of grams of carbohydrates MINUS the number of grams of fiber in a food. Laska also subtracts the grams of sugar alcohols.  I’m not sure if she’s correct in saying that these are not digested the same as other carbohydrates — but it has been standard practice since the days of Atkins to subtract grams of fiber.

Personally, I have tried (in my tumbling down the hill days) to make sure I didn’t eat more than 100 grams of ANY kind of carb;  I haven’t done the net carb “thing”

Her secret? Learning to love vegetables

Eat vegetables as if your life depends on them! Use butter, ghee, cheese, sour cream — anything to make them better

My page 45, I’m loving Stephanie.  She explains that her use of sugar alcohols is part of the “dirty” side of her approach to keto.  She admits to needing the sweet crutch–and that real sugar is just off the table for her.  Sugar is her krytonite.  As a stress eater myself who struggles with sugar addiction, I feel her pain.  It’s good to know what your personal kryptonite is.  (Mine is white potatoes.)

Her diet advice seems sensible and fairly easy to follow.  She offers some of the standard advice about cleansing your kitchen of high carb stuff and cooking once, eating twice (planning for leftovers),  some standard meal planning advice and a good overview of keto  (with a little hand wringing about the artificial sweetener controversy.)

In this “mini-guide,” Laska also covers IF (intermittent fasting) and the question of cheat days or cheat meals.  (She’s for one, against the other.)

In Sum:

This is a good book for a keto beginner intimidated by the charts and graphs and data-obsessed hypotheses of traditional keto practice.  There’s not much here on the science, no recipes, and not much in the way of meal plans or suggestions.  Her personal story is great, her results were fantastic.  But it’s a bit thin and would never make it as a professional publication. Enjoyable enough, but I’m glad I got it free on Kindle Unlimited.  Worth the ten bucks?  Probably a no.

Now, that said, for a self-published, amateur publication, it’s pretty good.  I would’ve been happy if the price point had been, say, 3.99 for the Kindle version.   She did some research on this and tries to explain in very plain terms the essential ideas and concepts of the keto way of eating.   She doesn’t go into the ins and outs of ketosis much and most topics are covered at a fairly superficial level.

The blog is good but also not one for recipes or  regularly kept up. Posts seem to be monthly.   I’ll let you know about the Facebook group. 🙂   I do want to hang out with Stephanie Laska and her dirty, lazy keto folks.