Raq’n Recipes: Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma

My MENAHT inspired costume.

My first experience with chicken shawarma was at the Castle of Muskogee Renaissance Festival earlier this month. I was visiting the fair with my friend and her daughter, and due to allergies, we had to find food that was both egg and dairy free. Having been the last several years, we were familiar with a halal booth offering Middle Eastern cuisine. The vendor is no longer halal, as they serve pork kabobs, but the owner assured us everything was egg and dairy free.

We got the shawarma plate with pita, and hummus, and a bunch of veggies I didn’t eat, and Israeli pickles (that I also didn’t eat). I stuffed a pita with some shawarma and hummus and had a nice little wrap. Up until that moment, I had never had hummus, despite being involved in dance for several years. It was different, but it wasn’t bad.

I decided to pick up a tub of garlic hummus and looked up a ton of chickpea recipes on Pinterest. I’ve yet to try any of them, but I have a few cans of chickpeas in my cabinet. I’m not sure how I ended up on shawarma recipes, but that was my project this week.

I sort of used this recipe from Jo Cooks, although, I was only cooking for me, so 3 chicken breasts was way more than I needed for myself. So I had to reduce the recipe. I’m more of an eyeballer than a precise cook, so I reduced, but not by 2/3 exactly. I also ditched the onion, because onions make me ill, and the parsley because I didn’t have any.

These are the rough measurements I ended up using.

  • 1 chicken breast, boneless and skinless
  • 1 tsp smoked paprikaPicsArt_05-25-04.34.13
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tbsp 100% lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp minced garlic

I marinated my chicken for 24 hours. I didn’t initially intend to do that, but I went out with family the day I planned to cook it, so it got shelved for a day. I mixed all my spices and liquids together and coated the chicken breast and put a lid on the bowl and popped it in the fridge. I flipped it over after several hours, before I went to work, so the other side got some love too.

When I was ready to cook, I put the chicken in a smallish Pyrex baking dish and baked it for 45 minutes at 425 F (218 C). I flipped the oven over to broil and left the chicken in there while I toasted a pita bread brushed with olive oil. I took the chicken out and let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing it up.

I spread a layer of garlic hummus on the pita and sprinkled some hemp seeds on it for some extra texture. I added the chicken and a sprinkle of reduced fat feta cheese and had a tasty chicken shawarma wrap.

I also tried to make turmeric rice, but that was a bit of a disaster, so we aren’t going to talk about that.

My first attempt at Middle Eastern (inspired?) food was a success. Next time I might even try making my own flat bread or even my own hummus. I’ll definitely use a less tangy hummus next time.

But until then, Ma’as-Salaamah!



Part of Your World: Cultural Appropriation vs. the Need to Connect


As a non-native belly dancer, particularly a white, non-native dancer, the question of appropriation comes up a lot. Those of us of the pasty persuasion walk a thin line between respectfully participating in another culture and taking cultural features for our own ends without respect to the originators of that culture. There are even some who claim that white people have no place in belly dance regardless of the dancer’s intent, education, or respect for the culture.

I disagree with this premise, of course, not only as a white woman, but as a lover of anthropology and culture and a desire to learn about cultures not my own. I can understand some of the resentment from cultures who have been victim to Western Imperialism and systemic oppression by Imperialist powers currently or in the past, but cultural sharing has been occurring for as long as humans have been interacting with one another.

We come together, we share with each other our customs and traditions, our arts, our music, our dance. Watching a dance find its way onto the world stage where all races and ethnicities want to participate is a beautiful thing. Ballet, Latin dance, hip hop, contemporary, Raqs Sharqi. It’s wonderful to see different people come together to enjoy the art of a specific culture.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I beg you to hear me out regardless of what shade of paper my skin is.

Based on recent discussions I’ve been a part of, cultural appropriation seems to be a largely American talking point currently. Dancers from Europe claim that it is not really an issue talked about much in their countries. I would say there is a reason for that.

America is a young nation in the grand scheme of things. It is large and the culture of each state can differ wildly from the next or even within itself. We are known as “the Melting Pot” due to the sheer number of cultures that have congregated here over the past four to six hundred years. We spend a lot of time not cultivating our own culture, but instead romanticizing and linking ourselves, however tenuously, to the cultures of our ancestral lands.

The popularity of DNA testing in the last few years demonstrates that. We have a deep desire to know where we come from, to be able to connect to an older culture, perhaps because we lack a deeply rooted cultural identity of our own. Walk up to any American whose family has existed here for a few generations and ask them what they are. They’ll rattle off “Oh, I’m Irish, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Ukrainian.” American is not typically a response you get even though they have never set foot in these countries they mention.

We celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, or Mardis Gras which originally had nothing to do with America because we are desperately seeking to be part of something that isn’t just BBQ, Cowboys, and Old Glory.

I can say for myself that I have never formed any sort of national identity. I have never formed a deep-seated patriotism or attachment to my geographical location. I’ve always been baffled by people who are so passionately supportive of sports teams simply because they live in a place.

I live in my home town. I live in my state, but it wouldn’t really affect me much if I left it. This is the place I was born and raised, but I did not choose this place. I have no real sense of loyalty to it. It’s just a fact that this is where I exist at this point in my life.

Perhaps there are others who feel the same way, who feel drawn to other countries and peoples, to feel a part of a rich culture that fascinates them.

I have always been drawn to other cultures. American history has often left me cold. I never enjoyed those classes. I was always wanting to read about far off places, ancient histories, or crafting my own cultures so foreign to what I knew.

Perhaps I simply wished to escape the puritanical hostility that is so deeply rooted in American history. I want color and vibrancy, passion and music. I want to embrace the beauty of a passionate people, to find some sort of connection beyond existing on a piece of a map by pure coincidence.

Egyptian dance has been my gateway out of the dark hermitage of my room, where I hide away from the world, from the prudish hypocrisy that one often finds here, from the narrowly defined beauty ideals forced upon us from infancy, from the jaded cynical nature that has permeated our modern society.

It has been a long time since I have experienced such passion for a subject. Any subject really. The inclusive nature of this dance and the dance community as a whole has been very helpful to me, both for my mental health and my self image. I find myself fascinated by not only the dance, but the music, the art, the culture, the language, the people that birthed this magnificent expression into the world.

I beg natives of MENAHT cultures to understand that most of us aren’t wanting to rob you of your culture. We want to immerse ourselves in it. We want to bathe in its light, to breathe in that spark of the ancient we cannot always find within ourselves.

I never want to offend a native of the culture I desire to share in. Share your wisdom with me. I want to know. I am starved for that knowledge. I want to hear about your customs, your traditions, your expressions, your joys, your sorrows. I only want to honor it as well as I can, because there is something there that speaks to me. I would share that spark with those around me, particularly in this time when those cultures I seek to honor are often demonized by western media and government.

If you find me uneducated, teach me. I am a blank book ready to be filled.

Raq’n Recipes: Purple Power Smoothie

I think part of anyone’s dance journey is some sort of fitness regimen, so as part of my dance life, I wanted to share the occasional healthy or culturally relevant recipe.

Today, I’ve got for you the Purple Power Smoothie, a vegan nutrition-packed breakfast (or any meal option) for dancers and non-dancers alike. I’m a picky girl and have never been good at getting in my fruits and veggies. Smoothies are a great way for me to make almost anything palatable.

Except bananas. I can’t even with bananas for some reason.


Everything in this smoothie is a fresh whole food with no refined sugars. Anything I could find in organic locally, I got, but non-organic options also work, of course.

  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 3/4 – 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2/3 cup blueberries (frozen)
  • 1/2 cup raspberries (frozen)
  • 1/2 medium hass avocado (preferably chilled or frozen)
  • 2 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole chia seeds
  • 1 tsp raw honey (or 100% maple syrup/agave nectar)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Add spinach and almond milk to blender and run until spinach is minced well. Add all fruit next and blend for a bit before adding the seeds. You might need to use an icing spatula to scrape the sides and fold in the seeds a bit before blending again. Lastly, add your honey and lemon juice and blend until smooth. Serve in an insulated cup to preserve texture longer. The lemon juice is optional, but I added it to cut through the sweetness of the blueberries.

This may seem high calorie, but it is meant to be a meal by itself. I’ve provided the nutritional info according to My Fitness Pal below. Packed full of fiber, healthy fats, protein, and other nutritious goodness, I think it makes for a good, high-energy breakfast.


Nutrition Facts
Servings 1.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 434
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 25 g 39 %
Saturated Fat 2 g 9 %
Monounsaturated Fat 9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 10 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 161 mg 7 %
Potassium 678 mg 19 %
Total Carbohydrate 39 g 13 %
Dietary Fiber 17 g 69 %
Sugars 18 g
Protein 18 g 37 %
Vitamin A 40 %
Vitamin C 39 %
Calcium 38 %
Iron 37 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Annoying the Entire Household: Learning Finger Cymbals

PicsArt_05-01-08.39.27Although I have been dancing for several years, I’ve never really picked up many props. Well, I’ve purchased a few, but I never really managed to acquire the skill. I purchased a veil and a set of finger cymbals (sagat, zills) at the same time, and never really managed to learn either one of them. My first real prop was the assaya, which I debuted last month. Now my newest project is figuring out the sagat.

My first set of sagat came in the form of the Moorish brass set from Saroyan. They were reasonably priced and the description said they were good for beginners. Lies! Lies, I tell you!

Okay, maybe not lies, just not really good for me. I always found the little things hard to handle, and because of that, I never really got around to mastering them. It wasn’t until the last couple of months, that I began to consider that maybe they were just too small for me. In the first zill DVD I purchased featuring Elsa Leandros, Elsa uses these great big zills. I also noticed Karim Nagi prefers larger cymbals as well. His mastery of that instrument is fascinating and super entertaining to watch, both live and recorded.

I asked around in the online community about whether larger would be easier to learn, and the general consensus was start small, but that still didn’t feel right to me. Small wasn’t working. Fortunately, while on a lunch break at the recent Nada el Masriya workshops last month, I mentioned the issue and another dancer pulled out one of her many sets and let me feel them out.

They felt good in my hands. A nice size, a nice weight. Not large, per se, but about a .25 inches (.64 cm) larger than my Moorish set. A week or two ago, I ended up ordering those same sagat, the Turkish Delight Professional brass set from Saroyan. I also learned the nifty trick of using tiny safety pins to secure the elastics instead of employing my sub par sewing skills and screwing it up. They are much easier to adjust, even if it’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.

I have always had trouble with the numbering system for learning sagat as well. It’s the most common method. At least three of my DVDs that involve cymbal patterns use it. However, I don’t count when I dance, so numbers just kind of break my brain. I much prefer using the dum-tak-tik-tok method as the sounds translate much more easily to me than the numbers.

After studying with Karim last year, I really enjoyed his method and his performance. I love learning the proper Arabic terms for the music and rhythms. I love how he approaches it from a musician’s perspective and not only from a dance perspective. So this week, I grabbed his finger cymbals DVD, because, I don’t just want to learn to dance with the sagat. I want to learn to actually play them like an instrument.


We’ll see how well I do. I’m definitely going to spend a lot more time on these before I try to perform with them than I did with the assaya. Wish me luck! And pray for the poor ears of my cats.