Mai Tamimi, from Palestine, shows how to make musakhan, a
baked chicken and bread dish seasoned with sumac and
Mai Tamimi came to New Zealand in 2008 with her family,
husband Nasser, daughter Rinad (now 17) and son Naser (14). She
had another daughter, Malak (3). She had a scholarship to
complete a PhD at the University of Otago and has been
writing a thesis on human geography, people in contact with
the land and nature, focusing on young Palestinians in areas
Musakhan (chicken flavoured with sumac and spices with onions
and bread) is a traditional Palestinian dish and could be
made from ingredients that were readily at hand in the
countryside: onions which grew in village gardens, olive oil
from the trees around the village, the spice sumac, bread
which was made at home, and chickens which foraged around the
houses, she said. Musakhan was often eaten at celebrations.
Musakhan (chicken flavoured with
sumacand spices with onions and bread)
Mai's musakhan. Photos by Jane Dawber.
8 chicken drumstricks
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
8 large onions
4 pita or naan bread loaves
2 tsp spice mix (see below)
2 Tbsp sumac
2 tsp salt
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp slivered almonds browned in a little butter or oil, or
parsley for garnish
2 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp ground coriander
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
Mix spices together and store in an airtight container.
To make the musakhan, peel and chop the onions either in
chunks or slices and put in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt but
no oil. Cover and put over medium heat. When it starts to
steam, turn the heat low and cook for about 15 minutes,
Cook the chicken pieces: you can either poach them for about
half an hour or cover them with foil and bake them in the
oven at 180degC for about an hour - sprinkle with a few onion
pieces, cinnamon stick and bay leaves, and a teaspoon each of
the spice mix and sumac. To test whether the chicken is
cooked, insert a knife and if the juices run clear it's done.
Cut the bread in thirds or other convenient sizes and shapes
for serving. Spread a little oil in an oven-proof serving
dish and cover the bottom with the bread.
Brown the slivered almonds in a little ghee (clarified
butter) and set aside.
When the onions have steamed for about 15 minutes, add a
teaspoon of the spice mix, two tablespoons of sumac and ½
to ⅔ of a cup of olive oil. Stir, cover and cook for
another 10 minutes or so.
When the onions and chicken are cooked, spread the onions
over the bread in the serving dish and lay the chicken pieces
on top. To make it easy to serve, place one piece of chicken
on each piece of bread.
Pour a little of the pan juices or chicken cooking water
over, and put in the oven for 10 minutes to heat through and
brown the chicken. You can use the grill if the chicken is
not colouring nicely. Remove from oven, sprinkle the browned
slivered almonds or parsley over the chicken, and serve with
plain yoghurt and a green salad - traditionally this would be
cucumber, tomato and onion, dressed with a little lemon juice
and/or olive oil.
• Mai Tamimi says it is healthier to cook the onions without
oil first because if you add oil at the beginning of the
cooking, it will need a lot more.
• Sumac is a red spice with a sharp, slightly lemon flavour,
widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is available at
good supermarkets and ethnic grocery stores.
• Mai Tamimi makes her own flatbread - use flour, yeast, a
little salt and sugar, water to mix, knead, leave for an hour
to rise, then shape into flattish rounds and cook slowly on
both sides in a frying pan until lightly coloured and cooked
• She recommends chewing gum while chopping the onions if it
causes too many tears.
• You could substitute a third of the oil with canola oil.
• There are many alternative ways of serving this: put onions
and chicken (preferably boneless pieces) in bread wraps with
or without some salad and yoghurt; fill pita bread with
onions and chicken pieces and heat in a grill press or
sandwich toaster; serve chicken and onions on a large loaf a
bit like a pizza.
• Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New