Musakhan. Mousakhan. Sumac. Sumak. I don't care how you spell it, this is my favorite Middle Eastern dish. See, I felt so horrible for posting a recipe I didn't even like that I had to make it up to you. And you'll come back. Plus, sumac is a fantastically delicious and aromatic herb (spice?) and every time I open my jar I wonder why I don't use it more. It's a ground berry from a plant related to the deadly sumac and is available from Middle Eastern specialty stores, or possibly Whole Foods and other related co-op-like places. Of course, I'm guessing (as usual) because I didn't begin using it until I moved here, where I can buy it cheaply and in bulk. That means sumac probably costs a bit more than dried parsley back in the States and considering this recipe calls for 6 tablespoons, you might think I'm a jerk for making you use so much for one dish. Oh, it so worth it.
Seth is surprised by how much I adore and greedily devour Musakhan because the flavor profile (ha! yeah, I just used that phrase) is fairly simple and I am notorious for my love of things slightly more complex. But simple is good: chicken and citrus are BFFs so it's no surprise that the sumac and lemon work here, but sumac added to caramelized onions makes my mouth sing. I'm sorry for the cliche, but I don't how else to describe it! The combo makes me shovel my food into my mouth at an alarming rate until I feel I can't eat any more. Then I wait an hour or two and go back to finish the leftovers.
I've tried several versions and have taken the best parts to make one awesome Musakhan. Last night was the best version I've made yet, according to Seth (thanks, hon!) and I have to agree. My two Middle Eastern cookbooks suggest using only 3 tablespoons sumac, but I can't imagine decreasing the main ingredient to so little. If you find 6 tablespoons to much, however, try decreasing to 4, but only after you've made it with 6. Most recipes also suggest spritzing the top with water throughout cooking to ensure that pita don't burn and covering your pan near the end of the cooking process if it seems things are getting a bit too crispy. Lame. Cover it for the first thirty minutes, remove for the last ten and you'll have nothing to worry about.
|My first attempt, in our old apartment. I've since graduated to larger pita pieces.|
4lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed (last night I used 6 thighs and one huge breast, cut in half, because that's what I had on hand. Basically, enough chicken to comfortably fill your pan, but not crowd it.)
4-5 large white onions, sliced in thin rings
2 lemons, halved
1/2c olive oil
4-5 pita, split in half, torn into large pieces
1/2c chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line bottom of a 9x13 pan with pita pieces (single layer).
2. Rub chicken pieces all over with lemon (I really squeeze and rub to get all the goodness I can from that little fruit and normally end using a whole lemon.) Season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in large frying pan. Add onions and cook over medium heat until caramelized, 20-30 minutes. (Really cook those suckers down, because you want their sweetness to emerge in all its glory.)
4. Once onions caramelize, add 4 tablespoons sumac (stir in) and cook for another 5 minutes.
5. Arrange (spread) 2/3 of the onion mixture over pita pieces in pan. Place chicken pieces on top of mixture and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sumac (and salt/pepper if desired.) Top with the last 1/3 of the onion mixture. (Traditionally you add a few slivers of raw onion on top of all this, so do that if you like or leave it out; it doesn't effect the end result.)
6. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over everything, then top with remaining pita pieces. They don't need to completely cover it, but it should be a decent "top". Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil over pita and pour the broth along the sides of the pan (not directly over the bread.)
7. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30, remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until pita top is crisp.
8. Enjoy. The bottom pita layer will be moist, like wet stuffing, while the top resembles pita chips. Use those chips to scoop the food into your mouth (you can also use a fork.) I serve it with rice and a salad.