Musakhan is the ONE dish that we Palestinians can claim as our own national dish. The word musakhan literally means “something that is heated,” This dish is very simple to make and the main ingredients are chicken, tabun bread, onions, and the spice sumac. Sumac is a spice that has a lemony flavor and got a deep purple color, it's popular within the Middle Eastern and Persian cuisines. It’s an inexpensive spice unlike saffron and can be found at any store that sells Middle Eastern products.
The other important ingredient for this dish is the type of bread tabun. Tabun is a flatbread that is made mainly from wheat flour, baked in a tabun oven “which is made from clay shaped like a truncated cone with an opening at the bottom from which to stoke the fire.” Wikipedia.
I love this dish and it is one of my absolute favorites, so when I first moved to the US I couldn’t make this dish as much because I couldn’t find a bread that is close enough to tabun, I mean yes I know I perhaps would never find tabun bread here but I thought I can find something that can be close enough to tabun bread. One day I was eating at an Indian restaurant and they served naan bread, and I’m like oh my God this can work for musakhan. So I did order some bread and made musakhan, invited some of my friends, and it turned out really good.
Now it’s really hard to have any bread close to tabun and the unique flavor of this bread. Tabun bread topped with the cooked onions in olive oil and sumac is actually my favorite part of this dish, I can just eat the bread with sumac and onions and careless for the chicken. Nevertheless, I try to make it as close in taste and enjoy.
However, when I moved to San Jose just a few years ago, I found this bakery that makes this flatbread which is just perfect for musakhan, since then I’ve been motivated to make this dish often and that’s what I’m using today.
Here is how to make musakhan:
If you’ve got sensitive eyes and can’t tolerate chopping onions just like myself, be aware that this dish requires a lot of onions, I mean of course that’s if you are making a big meal for friends you’d need to have a lot of onions. And what I learned regarding avoiding the onions eye burns, is either to do the chopping near a flame, like turn on the stove for instance or place the onions on ice or in the freezer for just a few minutes prior to chopping. I’ve tried all of those methods and they work.
As for the type of onions, I prefer to use red onions instead of sweet onions. Because the sweet onions as their name indicates they are sweet for this dish, so I decided that red onions work better, that way I'd use less salt. Once onions are chopped place about a ¼ cup of olive oil in a pot with the onions. So also this dish requires a generous amount of olive oil; and I think to no surprise since Palestine is known for its high quality of olive oil, to have a dish that requires a lot of olive oil just makes sense. Keep occasional stirring on medium heat until onions soften, then add salt and sumac. Be generous with the sumac, you can never really mess up the taste with a bit of extra sumac.
As for the chicken, any type of chicken is ok to use, here I used just legs. I also like to take the skin out. Marinate the chicken with the spices, lemon, and sumac, I also like to rub the chicken with some olive oil which gives the chicken a brownish nicer color once baked. I like to use the roaster baking sheet that has its own cover. Any baking sheet is fine, just make sure to cover with foil. Bake the chicken on 375 degrees for about an hour depending on your oven. The legs usually are softer than the breasts, so they don’t take longer than an hour. Towards the end of baking and once chicken look soft and ready, uncover and let it bake for another 5-10 minutes to get a more brownish color.
Once the chicken is baked and onions are cooked and JUST prior to serving, start putting everything together. With a serving, spoon take the cooked onions and spread over the bread. Here, it’s recommended to place the bread covered with the cooked onions back in the oven or roaster oven for few more minutes, just to warm it up, the idea here is NOT to toast the bread (which you can if that’s a preference), but to make it warm prior to serving. Then place the chicken over the bread and decorate with nuts.
This recipe is enough for 3-4 people.
- 4 chicken legs
- 3 large flatbread
- ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil (keep about 2 tablespoons for the chicken)
- 3 red onions chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons sumac (1 tablespoon for the onions and 1 for the chicken)
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- A ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- roasted and almond nuts for decorations
- Sauté chopped onions with olive oil on medium heat, keep occasional stirring until onions are soft. This takes about 15-20 minutes, add sumac and salt. Set aside
- Marinate chicken with allspice, salt, cinnamon, sumac, lemon juice, salt and black pepper, and rube the top with some olive oil.
- Place the chicken on a baking sheet covered and bake in a 375 degrees preheated oven for about an hour. Uncover once the chicken is tender, and bake for a few extra minutes for extra brownish color or place under the roaster.
- Assemble everything only prior to serving by spreading cooked onions over bread and place the bread with covered cooked onions back in the heated oven for just 5 minutes to warm it up.
- Place a piece of chicken and place on top of bread and sprinkle nuts.
You can check out my vegan version of this dish: