Saturday, 4 October 2014

Palestine - How I made Musakhan

Although I've cooked Arabian and Yemeni dishes before, like Kabsa and Saltah, this was my first attempt at making proper Middle Eastern food. I was spoilt for choice in terms of Palestinian dishes, but settled for Musakhan in the end, as I needed something easy after my recent experience trying to make a Mexican mole!

I looked at two different sources for inspiration - the first, a very entertaining and enjoyable book called Classic Palestinian Cuisine (2001) by Christiane Dabdoub Nasser.  Nasser tells the stories of the dishes and recounts his personal experiences, which makes this so much more than just a book of recipes!

Ground cardamom, sumac and cinnamon
If I'm being honest though, I was more influenced by the recipe in The Middle Eastern Kitchen (also 2001) by Ghillie Başan, as this recipe was a bit simpler and less labour-intensive.

I really love the format of The Middle Eastern Kitchen as it focuses on the individual ingredients and, perhaps not surprisingly, the recipe for Musakhan comes under the section on the spice called sumac.

My first time using sumac

Apart from sumac, the main flavouring for this dish, I was pretty sure I would find all of the ingredients I needed in my local area.  As it turned out, it was quite easy to find sumac as well and I think it's much more commonly available than I realised - I've just never noticed it before.

Sumac is made from dried berries and quite often sprinkled on salads or cooked meats to give them a kind of citrus flavour.  It's very tasty and I can see myself using this flavour a lot in future, as it adds a satisfying piquancy, if you don't want too much heat in your dish.

The ingredients

For the Musakhan


Musakhan ingredients
Olive oil - زيت زيتون
Butter - زبدة
2 onions - بصل
2 chicken breasts - دجاج
sumac - سماق
cinnamon - قرفة
cardamom (ground is best) - هال
1 lime - ليم
Mint - النعناع
Coriander - الكزبرة (although I decided not to use coriander in the end, as I wanted a more minty flavour)
4 pitta breads - خبز (actually it would be best to use real Palestinian bread, known as tabun which is the name of the oven it's cooked in, but I didn't have access to this, so pitta was a good substitute, especially as it's hollow inside and can be easily filled)

For the salad

2 cucumbers - خِيار
4 tomatoes - طماطم
Red pepper - فلفل حار
Yoghurt - الزبادي
Mint - النعناع
1 lime - ليم

How I made Musakhan

I started by making the salad, so I could chill it in the fridge whilst cooking the main meal.  I must admit that I'm not a massive fan of cucumber which I know sounds ridiculous, as it's probably one of the world's most inoffensive food products - I think I ate too much cucumber when I was living in Uzbekistan and it put me off!

Lovely, refreshing cucumber

Anyway, I first chopped the cucumber into chunks and mixed it with the yoghurt in a big bowl.  I then chopped up the tomatoes, pepper and mint, mixing these ingredients with the cucumber and put this in the fridge to chill.  Before taking it out of the fridge to serve with the main meal, I added lime rind and juice.

Red pepper added to cucumber and yoghurt mix

Cucumber and tomato salad
I added lime rind and juice to my salad, as well as to the main dish

To make the Musakhan I started by frying a lump of butter in some olive oil, then adding the onions and frying these until they turned a soft golden colour.

Fry the onions until they turn golden

I then added the chicken pieces and a couple of spoonfuls of sumac and stirred until the chicken had cooked through.

Add the chicken pieces and the sumac
Then I added the ground cardamon and cinnamon, along with lime rind and juice and chopped mint leaves, leaving the dish to simmer gently, only stirring occasionally,

Add the mint and spices

Let the dish simmer for about 20 minutes
As the main dish was cooking, I halved the pitta breads, opening up their central cavities before putting them in the oven for a few minutes to soften them up.

Halve the pitta bread and open the centre

A stack of pitta bread
Once the pitta breads had heated a bit, I took them out and spooned the Musakhan mixture into each piece of bread, before returning them to the oven to cook for around 8 minutes.  

Fill the pitta bread with the cooked Musakhan mixture

Bake in the oven for around 8 minutes
The end result was very yummy and the cold salad made a nice contrast to the warm bread and musakhan.  This was an easy dish to make and I'd highly recommend it!

Musakhan with salad

My Palestinian dinner
Image credits:

All images were taken by me on my trusty Canon EOS 1100D.  Feel free to re-use these images with the Creative commons license:

- Attribution (especially to this blog post)
- Non-commercial
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