I first ate mousakhan many years ago, and my mouth waters every time I think about it. The word mousakhan means “hot,” coming from the root word sakhan. Sautéed onions are mixed with sumac, cloves, and pine nuts and baked with the chicken. Before serving, the chicken is baked on top of pita bread, drenched with olive oil. The secret to a good mousakhan is highquality sumac—not the poisonous American variety, but the spice made from red berries picked fresh from fields in the Galilee, then dried and crushed. Middle Eastern markets carry them. You can also sprinkle the sumac on rice, as the Persian Jews do, or onto flatbread with sautéed onions and pine nuts to make a delicious focaccia.
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5 large onions, coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 chicken breast halves
- 4 chicken legs with thighs
- 4 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 8 small pita breads, 4 large pita breads cut in half
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large skillet over a low flame. Add the onions and sauté for 20 minutes, or until golden, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, sprinkle on salt to taste.
3. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, rubbing well into the skin.
4. Transfer the onions to a 9-by-12-inch baking dish and place the chicken on top. Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for 15 minutes more.
5. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of the remaining olive oil into a frying pan. Heat the oil, then add the pine nuts. Fry over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pine nuts are lightly browned.
6. Mix the sumac, allspice, cloves, and pine nuts in a small bowl.
7. Remove the chicken from the oven and sprinkle on the sumac-pine nut mixture. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top and return the dish to the oven. Continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes more or until the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken from the oven.
8. Preheat the broiler. Transfer each chicken piece to a round of pita bread, or place all the chicken pieces on the oversized pita. Sprinkle the onions, with a small amount of the cooking liquid from the chicken, on top and around the chicken. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and broil for 5 minutes (don’t let it burn).
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving.