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Musakhan, A Traditional Palestinian Sumac-Spiced Chicken Dish



Musakhan, is to Palestine, what pasta is to Italy. The sumac-spiced chicken dish is considered to be the national dish of Palestine, and like most traditional foods, it’s hearty and uses staples that are indigenous to the country. With musakhan, it’s all about the sumac-spiced onions sautéed in copious amounts of good quality Palestinian extra virgin olive oil. Musakhan was in fact traditionally made to coincide with olive oil pressing season. The tender, crimson-colored onions and chicken, sit on a bed of khuboz taboon (a thick chewy flatbread) whose name derives from the taboon (clay oven) it’s baked in. The taboon bread is the perfect vessel for the sweet but tangy (sumac or sumaq spices add a lemony flavor and pop of dark red color) onions and tender roasted chicken, because the taboon bread soaks up the juices and holds up nicely to the fragrant olive oil. It’s common practice to tear up pieces of the oniony bread and chicken, and unceremoniously eat musakhan with your hands. The dish is not really difficult to make, and there are many ‘updated’ versions nowadays, but like most Middle Eastern food, musakhan, is definitely prep heavy and made on special occasions and for large family gatherings. Every Palestinian family will have that one person/friend/ close relative that’s famous for making great musakhan. With millions of Palestinians living outside the country, home cooks are being very creative and coming up with with musakhan inspired dishes and ‘make-dos’ that replace the traditional taboon bread with other breads like shrak bread, and/or by cutting down the laborious process involved in preparing the dish the way tradition calls for like Chef in Disguise’s musakhan recipe. Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street version of musakhan, pares down the process really well, so it’s a good one to try if you’re making musakhan for the first time. I took several shortcuts, but none that compromised the iconic original essence of the dish. I used naan bread (it gets soggy fast so serve it only when ready to eat) and instead of roasting the chicken in the oven, I seasoned it only with: salt, pepper, pinch of all spice, and cardamom, and browned it on the stovetop. I removed the chicken, and in the same pan sautéed several chopped onions in olive oil, sumac, and more seasoning. I added some chicken broth to the cooked onions and let them simmer with the partially cooked chicken for a bit. When the sauce was reduced I shred the chicken and mixed it with the onions and served it over the bread with a generous dose of fried almonds and pine nuts. Serve with yogurt and a salad.


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