“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilised living” (Dione Lucas) and Palestine in its truest embodiment represents that. Once a place of vitality and blossoming culture, Palestine was a glorious hub of culture, customs and heritage with its inhabitants known for their generosity and hospitality.
Palestine sits on a crossroad to three continents and is located in the Middle-East in the region marked as the “Fertile Crescent” because of the density of moisture and water and just like its location it rendered fertile space for three main cultures to blend their scrumptious and vibrant array of spices and herbs understanding into one melting pot, which became the Palestinian cuisine. The Arabs, the Turks and the Persian influences play a major role in the Food of Palestine. Shouldering the rigid tides of time and living in constant adversity, the Palestinian people still show exceptional gestures of hospitality and have ensured that their traditional trends, culture and heritage is passed on to the next generation. They have preserved their traditions, be it food or culture, for decades and over the past few years, with the growing interest and up-heavel of Middle-eastern trends, the Palestinian cuisine is also making it’s mark. Ofcourse, there is a good reason for it as well, the spice blends and the methods of cooking with integrating various fruits, vegetables and dry nuts into their food, the combination of flavours is fascinating.
If you have never heard of Musakhkhan, pronounced musakh-khan, you’re in for a succulent treat. Musakhkhan is a traditional Palestinian roast chicken dish, served with caramelized onions and roasted pine nuts on a fluffy flat bread, known as Taboun, soaking with the juices of the roasted chicken. It is a dish to die for. If I am honest, I love to read, not just books but whatever I find is intriguing me at that particular moment and that day I was browsing through history of Spain and yet somehow bumped into Palestine.
Musakhkhan is a very famous dish in the Palestinian cuisine. The key ingredient of the dish is ‘Sumac’, as it is in most of the Mediterranean recipes. In terms of flavour, it is a tart spice that gives any dish a fruity and astringent nuance. It can be used in cooking, marinations and even as garnish or part of salad dressings. The gorgeous purplish red colour is eye-catching as is it’s fragrance. The second key ingredient in the dish is Taboun, Palestinian Flat bread. If you can’t find it, the similar substitute would be Indian Naan Bread or if you want to be just casual about the dish, just opt for a pita bread. The interesting part is that the bread is soaked into the juices released from steaming the chicken and is topped with caramelized onions and the prepared chicken. I can tell you one thing for sure, when I took this dish out of the oven, roasting hot, wafting arabian spice aroma in my home, I found it hard for myself to do a photo-shoot. It looked so gorgeous and the smell was making me salivate. Trust me, when I say this, you won’t be able to hold yourself back, it’s highly tempting.
The recipe is extremely easy and very quick. It’s just one of those dinners that cook themselves. Traditionally, the chicken is steamed with sauted onions and Baharat Spice Mix, also known as the 7 spice mix, an integral spice in Arab cooking, and then roasted in the oven. I however skipped the steaming part. I marinated the chicken for an hour and baked it with onions and tomatoes. Also, the recipe requires pine-nuts but almond shavings will also do wonders with the recipe and ofcourse for nut allergies, skip it altogether. Lastly, if you are unable to find sumac spice where you live, just omit it, even though it’s the heart of the dish but I’ve been in that situation where sumac was inaccessible and I made this dish regardless and even then it was pretty outstanding.
This dish is so gorgeous, I am feeling tempted to make this twice in one week and I love those gorgeous colours.
1. Chicken Legs — 4
2. Onion — 4
3. Pine Nuts — ½ cup
4. Cherry tomatoes — 8-12
5. Butter — 4 tbsp
6. Naan Bread — 4
7. Lemon juice — 4 tsp
8. Water — ½ cup
Baharat Spice Mix
1. Cumin Powder — 1 tsp
2. Cinnamon Powder — 1 tsp
3. Coriander Powder — 1 tsp
4. Nutmeg Powder — 1 tsp
5. Turmeric Powder — ½ tsp
6. Cardamom Powder — 1 tsp
7. Paprika — 1 tsp
8. Black Pepper — ½ tsp
9. Sumac — 1 tsp
1. Prepare the Chicken
a. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
b. Wash and pat dry the chicken.
c. Set about 1 tsp of Baharat Spice Mix aside to sprinkle on the onions later.
d. In a dish rub a teaspoon of Baharat Spice Mix on EACH chicken leg (1tsp:1leg)
e. Sprinkle over lemon juice and rub again.
f. Dice one onion into thick slices.
g. In a baking tray, add the marinated chicken along with the diced onions and the cherry tomatoes.
h. Add butter dollops on each chicken and add the water in the tray.
i. Sprinkle a little Baharat Spice Mix on top from the leftover.
j. Cover the baking tray with foil and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
k. In the last 5 minutes of the baking time, remove the foil and broil the chicken to give it a roasted texture.
2. Prepare the Onions and Pine Nuts
a. In a fry pan add a little oil and caramelise the onions with a little cumin and 1 tsp of the Baharat Spice Mix separated in the beginning.
b. Fry until the onions become translucent and soft. Do not brown the onions.
c. Set aside.
d. In the same pan roast the pine-nuts until light golden and set aside.
a. Warm up the Naan bread and put it on a serving plate.
b. Add the roasted chicken on top along with the juices from the tray, onions and cherry tomatoes.
c. Add the caramelised onions on top with the roasted pine-nuts. Garnish with sprinkle of Sumac.
d. Serve with any leafy side salad.