Video: How to make musakhan

Mai Tamimi, from Palestine, shows how to make musakhan, a baked chicken and bread dish seasoned with sumac and onions.


Mai Tamimi.
Mai Tamimi.
Mai Tamimi came to New Zealand in 2008 with her family, husband Nasser, daughter Rinad (now 17) and son Naser (14). She has

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 of conflict.

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.


Mai's musakhan. Photos by Jane Dawber.
Mai's musakhan. Photos by Jane Dawber.
Musakhan (chicken flavoured with sumacand spices with onions and bread)
Serves 8


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

Spice mix

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, stirring occasionally.

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 through.

• 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 World.


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