I invited someone over for the first time last week. I told her I was making musakhan. I then remembered she was Palestinian. Then I got really nervous –I am making a Palestinian dish for a Palestinian. “This better be good,” I told myself. You see, musakhan is a very traditional Palestinian dish that consists of chicken, sautéed onions, and sumac. The mixture is tightly wrapped in large saj or markook bread and further baked in the oven. The chicken is cooked in the bread, and the bread soaks up the flavors of the chicken and slowly sautéed onions. You tear into it with your hands, without a care in the world.
Recipes are passed down generations, and here I was on a Wednesday afternoon making up my own version. No pressure, right? My sister makes a version with musakhan chicken, but she shreds the chicken and wraps them in lavash bread and bakes them. I don’t know where she got the idea, but the sandwiches are awesome. I have made both versions, but I only had chicken breast on hand and traditional musakhan calls for bone-in chicken. So, it was going to be a sandwich day.
So, there are a few special ingredients in musakhan. The first, and arguable most important is sumac. This delectably tart, bright red spice is found throughout the Middle East and is used in many dishes – fattoush, Iranian rice, and even Turkish kabobs. It is made from the dried flower of the sumac plant, which is then ground into a fine powder. Sumac brings a tangy lemony flavor to foods that simply cannot be replicated. I bought some sumac from a Palestinian farmer that was at an exhibition here in Abu Dhabi. It is the best tasting sumac have ever had. I hope I find him again….sigh. I digress. The other special ingredient is the bread. In the U.S., Costco sells awesome lavash bread that is perfect for these sandwiches (they are the ones in the pictures below). In Abu Dhabi, I use either the traditional saj bread, which is extremely thin, or sometimes I can find Iranian bread at Carrefour which works well too. (A side note – these are awesome to eat for suhoor…)
I dug up my old recipe for the sandwiches, and was so happy that I didn’t have to make any changes to the recipe. The sandwiches came out perfectly. How do I know? My guest went for seconds, and took some home with her for the next day. Whew!
Musakhan (Sumac Spiced Chicken Sandwiches)
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Ingredients (16 sandwiches)
- 4 large chicken breasts
- 10 rolls of lavash bread (Costco sells great ones)
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 2 red onions, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of sumac powder
- 1 tbsp seven spice
- olive oil
(1) In a large pot (or pressure cooker), heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Brown the yellow onion and minced garlic. Add the raw chicken breast, seven spice, salt and pepper. I use at least 1 tsp of salt.
(2) Once the chicken is coated in the spices and the onion, add 4 cups of water and let boil. If you are using a pressure cooker, the chicken should cook in approximately 20 minutes. If you are using a traditional pot, let the chicken come to a boil for at least 30-40 minutes. The chicken is done when it flakes when pierced with a fork.
(3) While the chicken is cooking, in a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Cook the red onion slices until they are soft and translucent.
(4) Remove the chicken from the pot and place in a large mixing bowl. Set the chicken broth aside.
(5) Take two forks and begin to finely shred the chicken breasts. The chicken should be fairly easy to pull apart with the forks.
(6) Add the onions to the shredded chicken. Add ½ cup of the sumac powder and one cup of the reserved chicken broth to the bowl and mix well. Slowly add more sumac until you reach a nice pinkish color. Also, add a little more of the reserved chicken broth if the mixture appears dry.
(7) Place approximately 1/4 cup of the chicken mixture into the center of the lavash bread, and roll into a sandwich. Also, I usually add a spoon of leftover chicken broth for added moisture, but you don’t have to. Place in a jelly roll pan, or cookie sheet. Repeat for the rest of the lavash bread. If you are using Iranian or saj bread, wrap it more like a burrito, by folding the sides in. You also don’t need 10 sheets. Just 4-5 are plenty since they are so large. You can just cut the sandwiches when serving them.
(8) Brush the tops of the sandwiches with olive oil or butter.
(9) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the bread becomes slightly crispy and browned. Enjoy!