Street food is my favorite thing to eat, probably because it’s one of the things I miss most about my summers in Turkey. The day after we landed, everyone would gather at my grandmother’s apartment and she would order us döner, lahmacun, or kokoreç. To my family, this was just lunch. But to me, it was a reward for putting up with a grueling 10-hour flight, a three-hour layover, and that final oh-my-god-will-it-ever-end connecting flight.
As soon as I sank my teeth into any one of those dishes, the warm flavors were a reminder of countless past summers that began exactly like this. My grandmother would tell me to slow down—that I was eating as if someone was going to yank the food from my hands—but how could I? It was the best lunch I could ever have. Or so I thought.
Smash cut to present day Philadelphia, where it’s almost dinnertime and I’m craving the flavors of street food. I can’t make döner, given that I don’t have a vertical rotisserie, and lahmacun is out of the question because I have absolutely zero energy to deal with dough. So what’s a home cook to do? Get a rotisserie chicken and make associate food editor Zaynab Issa’s Halal Cart Chicken Salad.
In this recipe, store-bought rotisserie chicken gets shredded and dressed in a spiced hot oil. Then it’s served over iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, red onion, and cucumbers, and drizzled in a combo of mayo and Greek yogurt that nails the flavors of classic Halal cart white sauce. The juicy, warm chicken mixed with the crisp, cold veggies makes this the one dinner salad for those sweltering summer nights.
The ease to flavor ratio in Zaynab’s recipe is incredible. While toasting spices in dry heat is a good start to drawing out flavor, blooming them in oil (also known as chhaunk, tadka, or vaghar, among other names) makes their aromas even more pronounced, and makes for a crackly, pourable topping. On a blank canvas like rotisserie chicken, an oil spiced with coriander, cumin, and turmeric makes all the difference, with none of the time and effort of marinating and roasting. It’s like giving your taste buds a powerful hug.
With nearly all of the elements of New York City Halal cart chicken present in Zaynab’s dinner salad, this recipe will transport you to the streets of Manhattan, where that glorious, savory smell wafts through the streets of Midtown during peak lunch hours. But for me, this recipe takes me back to those sunny afternoons in my grandmother’s kitchen. Now at least once a week, I get a rotisserie chicken, tear it up, and cover it in that flavorful oil. It’s the perfect recipe for those days when I yearn for a taste of home.
Don’t forget the white sauce