Musakhan (Palestinian Sumac chicken with sauteed onions)

Musakhan is one of the most popular and traditional Palestinian recipes. It is usually prepared during the olive oil pressing season to celebrate freshly pressed oil but you can see it on the menu all year round in family gatherings and parties. Musakhan is all about fresh, simple ingredients allowed to shine. Good olive oil, tangy sumac,a hint of spices, onions caramelized to the point of being sweet and tender, perfectly roasted chicken and fresh bread. Simple yet you have to taste it to see how a dish can be much more than the sum of its parts.
Sumac is one of the main players in Musakhan, it is a spice that comes from the berries of the Rhus shrubs. The berries are dried and then ground to give a purplish deep red powder that is sour, slightly fruity and astringent. It is used in the middle eastern cuisine to add a sour, lemony taste to chicken, salads and salad dressings. It is also used as a garnish for different dips and salads. The amount I am using here is my personal preference, you can use more sumac or less, it is really up to your taste
Taboon bread another key player here, is a traditional bread that is usually baked in a very hot oven lined with small round smooth stones. The stones give the bread its dimpled appearance. If you can’t find taboon bread you can replace it with any flat bread you like, just make sure it is not too thin because it needs to withstand holding the onions and chicken


 This recipe was requested by my best friend, I am sorry Rasha it took me so long to post, I hope you will enjoy it :)
To make 2 medium loaves (4 servings)
1 kg onions peeled and chopped
2 cups olive oil
2 tablespoons Sumac
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 chicken cut into 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 loaves taboon bread
For the decoration
Nuts for topping (pine nuts or almonds are the most commonly used ones)
1 tablespoon sumac

The onions:

Make sure you don’t chop the onions too fine or they will get too soft with cooking and lose texture

  •  place the onions in a pot and add enough olive oil to submerge the onions completely (it may vary a little with the size of your pot but it took me 2 cups)
  • Cook the onions over low heat stirring occasionally till the onions are translucent but still hold their shape and have some texture, you don’t want them to get mushy (this will take 20- 30 minutes)
  • Once the onions are done,place them in a colander to drain off the olive oil. Do not discard the oil.
  • After all the oil has been drained off, sprinkle the onions with sumac, cardamom and black pepper and toss them till they are completely coated with sumac (note that the color and the taste will deepen when you leave the onions aside so add the sumac gradually, you can always add more if you want)

The chicken

Ideally you should use bone in chicken cutlets but you can use boneless chicken if you want.
Season the chicken on both sides  with 1/4 teaspoon cardamom,1/4 teaspoon black pepper and a pinch of salt.
You have a number of options for cooking the chicken:
  1. Sear the chicken pieces till they are golden brown and then add them to the onions as they are cooking
  2. Poach the chicken until done and then place them in the oven under the broiler to give them color.
  3. cook them in a separate pan using medium heat till they are completely done (cook them stove top)
I usually go with No. 3, I place the chicken cutlets in a pot or pan , skin side down and cook over medium heat till the skin is golden brown, I then lower the heat,flip them and cook them on the other side till they are done (170 F on the thermometer inserted in the thickest area of the chicken). This takes 20-30 minutes.
To add more flavor to the onions and the chicken, I add the drained onions to the chicken in the last 5 minutes of cooking and stir gently.

To assemble the musakhan

Pre heat your oven to 200 C and place the rack on the bottom
I usually place the loaf in the oven for 2-3 minutes to crisp it slightly (this prevents it from going soggy when you top it with the onions).If you like your bread a little soggy you can skip this step
Brush the bread with some of the olive oil you strained from cooking the onions and top it with onions and chicken
place in the oven for 10 minutes
Take out of the oven and top with nuts,sprinkle with the sumac and  serve with yogurt.

Musakhan wraps

If you want to make Musakhan wraps, you need shrak bread but you can use any flat bread you like if you can’t find shrak.
Top the bread with chopped onions and shredded cooked chicken, some nuts.
Roll and brush with some oil and heat in a sandwich press or in the oven.
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  1. Ohhhhhhhhh that looks AMAZING! I wish I could have it for dinner!!!! Can I use pita bread for it? I am not sure I would be able to find taboon bread here… or would a naan kind of bread be better?

    • Hello Manu :)
      I am really glad you found this recipe interesting
      You can make it with homemade pita just make the pita with part whole wheat flour and make the loaves big and dimple them with your fingertips so that they don’t puff up..the result should be close enough to taboon

  2. yum!!! i love the sound of this chicken sawsan!!! i can imagine eating this with my hands…simply finger licking!! :)

  3. looks really good!

  4. You are so sweet to make this for your best friend :D
    It looks incredible!

    Choc Chip Uru

  5. Looking way more delicious than any other chicken I tried before! Thanks for sharing, dear!

  6. Your clear tutorial makes it easy to make this recipe, your tips help a lot too.

  7. Oh, it’s been years since I had musakhan, my mom’s friend used to make it and it was heavenly. I love your clicks, the chicken looks juicy and the onions, Oh my! I used to eat the bread with onion alone, this is how flavorful were the onions. Thanks for reminding me of such a delight :)

  8. Gooooooorgeous! This looks so good. I’m thinking taboon bread is a no go for Cayman too so I may try your homemade pita suggestion :)

  9. I HAVE to hunt for these spices. That looks SO SO good! I am practically drooling and eat it off the plate right now! You are such a sweetheart to make it fr your best friend.

  10. The cardamom piques my interest. Can’t wait to try it!

  11. Mariam

     /  September 20, 2012

    Yummm!!! This is one of my favorite dishes. Once you try it you’ll never forget it and always crave for it. Thanks for posting, the tips are really helpful. Long time ago I made musakhan and it turned out great, but with my bad cooking luck, next time I tried it, it wasn’t that good. Thanks for coming to the rescue Sawsan, I have hope again, LOL.

  12. Rasha

     /  September 20, 2012

    Thank you my friend! I can’t wait to try it, you’re the best :)

  13. Oh does this look good Sawsan! What a fun recipe for chicken. Those onions look so good. I’m going to have to look for sumac. I don’t know that I’ve seen it. So good!

  14. this looks soooo good! I saw something like this in a local spice catalogue and i was so intrigued. I love the step by step pictures too :)

  15. Oh, Sawsan, I am thrilled to see the chicken part of the recipe. Such a classic. I truly appreciate getting your version. Thans! Great photos too!

  16. A gorgeous and hearty dish, Sawsan. I hope to do a lot of cooking, as long as I can stay off my feet to do it, as I recover from upcoming hip replacement surgery because 6 weeks of being trapped in the house unable to drive are going to be pretty dull. Perhaps I can try a few of your less challenging recipes. :)

  17. This looks so tempting! The chicken especially looks so perfectly charred and flavorful! Yum.

  18. Mmmm! I love sumac! This looks superb!

  19. Would absolutely LOVE to have dinner with you tonight! ;-) Seriously, the only problem with me making this recipe is my beloved’s problem with onions. He simply cannot have them, it gives them severe upset stomach. So, I drool over all the recipes with caramelized onions, or onions in any shape.. like this one, heavenly!

  20. Marvelous..again! I only found sumak a few years ago and just love it!

  21. How beautiful. I always learn so much coming here. And I get so hungry.

  22. Sawsan, this dish sounds so good. I can’t wait to try preparing your recipe. I find that sumac can vary in flavor a lot…some seems to have a stronger lemony flavor. Do you think that is from which country it comes from?

  23. This is a new dish to me. Love the way it looks, and the ingredients. This must have tremendous flavor! Really excellent description of how to prepare it – thanks so much.

  24. Eha

     /  September 21, 2012

    Love all the ingredients separately and together they DO look appetizing: on list for a taste test :D ! Have a lovely weekend :) !

  25. mjskit

     /  September 21, 2012

    What an exciting night of surfing! This is the third recipe I’ve seen that consisted of a delicious flatbread of some type with unique and tasty toppings! they all are quite different from each other and like this one – delicious! Your bread alone is a winner, and your topping of chicken and onions is awesome!

  26. rebeccasubbiah

     /  September 21, 2012

    this looks so so good adore food like this and sumac is one of my fav spices

  27. What a scrumptious dish!

  28. I’ve never heard of sumac and probably can’t find it here and it looks so pretty. Such a shame. It looks so tasty too.

    • I don’t use sumac by itself but am fortunate to be surrounded by a number of middle eastern grocery stores which carry ‘zataar’ a spice blend that’s a combination of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds which is a great rub on chicken or can be sprinkled over pita bread and baked. I used it a while back on chicken drumsticks. Yummy. :)

      See if you have any bulk food/spice places nearby that carry middle eastern goods. It’s a great herb mixture.

  29. Looking at all of those onions cooking I know this is going to be a yummy dish. I have not tried sumac so hoping I can find that here in HK.

  30. Wow…a new and interesting dish I’ve learned about today! :D

  31. everytime i visit your blog, i learn of new ingredients and it’s always so exciting :D
    i wish we were neighbors… i would be coming over to your place every day to sample all these fantastic recipes…hehehe

  32. Very nice dish! It looks so good

  33. I’m so in love with this whole meal kind of recipe..very delicious and healthy! I’m glad you like the friday photography, join in with me Sawsan! Your photos are stunning and would be a good addition to the weekly event. I stopped for a bit as I didn’t advertise well enough:-(..but will edit something on my blog. Just leave me your weekly link and I will include it in the round-ups:-)

  34. What a gorgeous recipe. I would love to try this!

  35. I always think of baking being the compilation of parts.. but this dish reminds me that cooking can really take food to another level with the right mix of flavors!! How lovely this looks, I can see why Rasha was asking for it.. and now we have it too! xx

  36. oooh! What an interesting recipe! So glad to learn a new dish! It looks gloriously delicious! I’ll have to order this if I ever see it on a menu! :D

  37. This looks amazing Sawsan! I can almost smell it from here :) I much prefer my chicken (or any meat) on the bone.

  38. i love anything with onions on it much less a wonderful piece of bread. this looks insanely delicious. Wishing i was your neighbor right now!

  39. This is such a beautiful post with clearly written directions…., just what I wanted! I had eaten the Musakhan at a friends place and had fallen in love with it. For me to try a new recipe, I need to have the recipe in front of me to read it and tend to follow every bit of the directions. I am glad I found your recipe. I will try making it soon insha Allah and let you know . Thank you:)

  40. I am mesmerized by your taboon bread, Sawsan. I would heartily enjoy it with just the onions spread atop it. It looks just so delicious. And the spices you’ve used must make the chicken quite aromatic as well as delicious. I can only imagine how good everything is when served together.

    • Thank you John.
      Taboon is indeed a wonderful bread, it is great as a base for different toppings or eaten as is, dipped in some olive oil with a little zaatar.
      I am glad you found the recipe interesting :)

  41. Adriana @FoodCocktail

     /  September 25, 2012

    I just found your blog today, but I am already drooling at all these beautiful pictures and tempting recipes. I love middle eastern cuisine, so I will most definitely try many of your recipes.

  42. Island girl

     /  December 31, 2012

    I am learning to cook middle eastern foods for my hubby who is a great cook…(i dont cook its a rare occasion today lol) and your receipe is the closest that i can remember the ladies in my family cooking it back home. thanks…cant wait to see the others! trying this now as i type! Thanks from the Virgin Islands!

  43. Talia

     /  March 1, 2013

    Yum! This is my absolute favorite dish growing up, haven’t had it in ages and wish I hung around my mom to learn how to make it before she passed (she used to wrap them). Thanks sooo much for the detailed recipe, I’m drooling thinking about eating it, I’m definitely going to make it this weekend, but had a question, do you use chicken with the skin or skinless? Or is it a matter of preference? Thanks!

    • Hello Talia,
      I am really glad I could help you with the recipe of a dish you loved growing up
      I usually use the chicken with skin on, you can remove the skin later on if you don’t like to eat it

  44. Island Girl

     /  March 28, 2013

    Its me again! Island girl. Any reciepes for Basboosa?

  45. Anonymous

     /  April 9, 2013

    i make musakhan all the time but for some reason the bread always gets stucked to the pan and get hard. what to do?

    • Try brushing the pan with a little oil and brush both sides of the bread with olive oil too. Using fresh bread also helps and try not to leave the bread in the oven for too long,you only want to heat it through and allow the flavors to merge

  46. georgie

     /  July 17, 2013

    i will try this recipe today for my boss. i hope i can make it good.. GOD BLESS TO ME…:)

  47. Tharwat

     /  July 18, 2013

    Do u have a recipe for the bread? Yours looks amazing!

  48. Maria

     /  December 8, 2013

    Sawsan, this looks amazing and I want to make it this week. Just a silly question, you mention it takes 20-30 minutes to sear via option 3. Do you mean for all the chicken pieces to cook at once or if you are doing it in batches? I am not mistaken after searing for five minutes on each side, it will be too much no? Please advise. Thanks. Maria

    • Hello Maria,
      I think it is my mistake for not clearing this up.I cook the chicken skin side down in a heavy bottomed pot, over medium heat till the skin is golden brown, I then lower the heat,flip them and cook them on the other side till they are done. The low heat allows the chicken to cook through without burning. Please cook the chicken to your desired level of doneness. It takes about 20 minutes for the bone in chicken to cook through over low heat on my stove but each stove is different. You just want the chicken to be cooked through with golden brown skin. The time and the way are up to you
      I hope this helps and if you have any more questions please let me know

  49. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the
    blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  50. A great recipe I can’t wait to try out. I love Arab food and those adventurous enough to try it! I wish more cooks would.

    I have my own version of Musakhan Rolls, inline with an Arab style. While different from your own, I think my recipe is a unique take on the dish. I’m new to the Food Blog scene and would love some feedback from a pro like you. Check out my recipe if have time.

  51. Violetta Salem

     /  February 8, 2014

    Dear Sawsan, usually I am not a fan to leave feedbacks. But I could not help thanking you for this wonderful website! You are soooooo right about the lack of original middle eastern recipes, especially palestinian. The majority you can find labaneese somehow westernized or Americanized ))) which is not bad. But I personally prefer to learn first the original stuff. And I am sooooo with on the idea to start this blog in English. See I am Belarussian and my husband is Palestinian and we live in NY. I was so excited to stumble onto this blog. And not just because of my husband’s preferences, and not only because the most decadent memories about food I have from Palestine and Jerusalem while visiting my in-laws, and not because I would love my kids to try Belarussian and Palestinian food. But just simply I am sort of chef in disguise too who loves exploring new recipes. And being familiar with a lot of blogs cooking channels etc. Let me tell you girl, you’ ve got here some good stuff. And by the way, my husband often teases me calling Sawsan))))
    P.S. I have particularly sweat memories About musakhan. Tonight I am hosting my russian friends, and the diner is middle eastern. I borrowed your qatayef recipe. But the next family dinner I am surely making musakhan! Thank you!

    • Violetta, you truly left me speechless! I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me!
      So much time and effort go into this blog, comments like yours make it worth every second!

      Thank you kindly for taking the time to write this comment and I do hope that you will enjoy joining me in my upcoming posts and adventures :)

  52. Anonymous

     /  February 23, 2014

    I am so excited to try this recipe tonight! You’re recipes are so helpful and everything looks so delicious! I can’t wait to make the kataif pancakes!! Thank you SO much!

  53. Anonymous

     /  February 25, 2014

    Musakhan is amazing. I could eat the onion infused oil, the onion, bread, and sumac all day every day and skip the chicken (though I don’t)! :)

  54. Violetta Salem

     /  March 5, 2014

    Dear Sawsan, I have finally made Musakhan tonight. I think you will be pleased to know it was an absolute success! We all enjoyed it, especially my husband. He was really impressed, so he is inviting a friend of his, who is originally from the village in Palestine, where Musakhan comes from.( I can’t remember it’s name:)) As, obviously, this recipe will be a real treat for the guy! Isn’t that cool !?
    I have some questions, though. First of all, what do I do , or should I do anything with the oil left after frying the onions. It is very fragrant, and I have plenty of it. Although, I am not sure if it is wise health wise to use it again. Any advice?
    Also in regard to cardamom. Should I use the small black seeds just the way they are. They are kind of hard. Do they soften if cooked? Should I look for the ground cardamom?
    Thank you!

    • Hello Violetta
      I am really glad the musakhan was a hit :)
      You can keep the oil and use it again for making musakhan, that is what my mum does. I personally share your worry, it might not be safe to do that for more than once. Cook in it once, store it and use it one more time but no more than that.

      As for the cardamom, it is ground cardamom, so sorry for not making that clear in the recipe.
      I really hope your husband’s friend will enjoy it

  55. eric

     /  March 5, 2014

    Absolutely delicious!!!!!!!!! I used naan bread, but I will try to make the more traditional musakhan on a weekend when I have more time. Thanks for the recipe!

  56. i love ur blog… ur photos and recipes are super… good job:)

  57. This is the first Palestinian dish we have tried & we loved it. Your recipe is easy to follow & delicious.
    Thanks very much for sharing it.

  58. I made musakhan the other the and it was a blast. The bread soaked the taste of spices, onion and olive. Thank you very much! Now off to make mozarella using your recipe.

  59. This bread looks more like the tamees bread we have here in Saudi than pita so I think I will try that. I am going to buy all of the stuff this weekend to make this recipe. I have made it before, but it was very different and I know yours has to be the real deal. Thanks so much :)

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