Musakhan (mu-Sa-khan) is the national dish of Palestine and one its people are very proud of. The Arabic word musakhan literally means reheated in English. The uniqueness of this dish is what makes it so special. Caramelized onions, chicken, sumac, a blend of spices, olive oil, toasted almonds and pine nuts on top of taboon bread soaked in the juices of the chicken and onions– the thought of it just makes my mouth water. All of these ingredients are cooked separately and then reheated together at the end, hence the name. Taboon bread (google for image) is a Middle Eastern flat bread that is baked on stones or in a cone-shaped clay oven. The bread is not Paleo friendly but I have found a way to still enjoy one of my favorite meals in a healthy way.
The blend of spices used in this dish and the cooking technique varies by region. When eaten on taboon bread, it is cooked with whole chicken pieces and enjoyed communal style and eaten with your hands. For this recipe, we’re skipping the bread altogether and serving it with cauliflower rice and boneless skinless chicken breasts.
This recipe calls for sumac, a very popular spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine that has recently been introduced to the Western world. I like to call sumac the exotic spice because of its tart, lemony flavor and its rich dark purple color. If you’re anywhere besides the Middle East, good quality sumac can be found at any Middle Eastern store. I get mine from the spice market in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Good quality olive oil is another one of the main components of this dish. It is added in every step in the cooking process but I personally don’t use it for cooking. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, I don’t cook with olive oil! I may be one of the few Middle Eastern woman who doesn’t use extra virgin olive oil for everything. You can learn more about it here.
I have made musakhan for years but I’ve never really paid attention to the measurements. I called my mom to ask her for the exact recipe but all she said was, “A sprinkle of this, a splash of that”. She wasn’t much help so she told me to call my aunt. My aunt gave me basic measurements and then said, “just taste it and you’ll know”. I was always taught to measure ingredients with my eyes. My grandma, mom, aunts and myself all cook this way. As difficult as it is, I have recently started taking note of measurements to make recreating recipes easier.
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 6 onions (2 onions per chicken breast)
- 3 tablespoons sumac
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Arabic spices (bharat) or all-spice
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
- 4 tablespoons avocado oil
- a drizzle of extra virgin *olive oil
- Cut your onions in half through the core.
- Thinly slice onions into half moon ribbons.
- Place the onions in a large skillet or pot with a sprinkle of salt and 2 tablespoons of avocado oil.
- Begin cooking them on medium to low heat.
- You want to cook the onions down until they are slightly caramelized, making sure they don’t burn.
- While the onions are cooking, begin preparing your chicken.
- Slice your chicken breasts into 2 inch bite size pieces.
- In a large skillet, cook the chicken with the rest of the avocado oil.
- In a small pan, toast your nuts until golden brown making sure you keep an eye on them.
- Once your onions are fully cooked, add the chicken to the pot and cook together for about 3 minutes.
- Add all the spices to the onions and chicken and stir until well incorporated.
- Mix in half of the nuts with the chicken and onions.
- Finally add a drizzle of your best quality extra virgin olive oil and garnish with the rest of nuts.
*Arabic word for olive oil: zait zaytoon