My love of all things Ottolenghi knows no bounds, so I was thrilled when my brother gifted me with Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Alongside Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi is the co-author of two bestselling cookbooks, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Both books are well loved and used in my kitchen.
Falastin is not merely amazing recipes, but interwoven with the personal story of Tamimi and the history of the Palestinian people. Did you know that there is no letter “P” in the Arabic language? So Palastinians refer to themselves as “Falastinians.” Hence the title of the book.
Musakhan is the hugely popular national dish of Palestine, and Tamimi explains when growing up, he ate this once a week. It’s a dish you eat with your hands and among friends.
I was drawn to this recipe for two reasons. First, nothing makes me happier than cooking for a crowd, and second, the copious amount of red onions! I love anything with onions, and in this recipe three red onions are thinly sliced, sauteed in olive oil until soft, and coated with sumac and cumin. Next time, I will be sure to make extra onions to add onto sandwiches, salads, or eggs.
I made a couple substitutes based on what I had on hand. I used chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken – and I think this recipe is fairly interchangeable so long as you use chicken with the bone-in and skin. The spice combination calls for allspice (which I did not have) so to save myself from a trip to the store, I swapped in nutmeg and cloves. I am allergic to pine nuts, so instead I used sunflower kernels. These were fairly minor changes that did not impact the overall flavor of the dish, so you can follow my lead or stick to the original recipe.
3 lbs chicken thighs (or 1 whole chicken, cut into parts)
~ ½ cup olive oil
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 tbsp sumac
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves (or ½ tsp allspice in lieu of nutmeg and cloves)
Salt and black pepper
¼ cup sunflower kernels (or pine nuts)
3 large red onions
4 pita or flatbreads
¼ cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 ¼ cup greek yogurt
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and line a bowl with paper towels.
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with 2 tbsp of oil, 1 tsp of cumin, 1½ tsp of sumac, the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, 1 tsp of salt, and a grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, and then spread out on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast the chicken for 45 minutes, or until it is cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside, but don’t discard any juices that have collected in the pan.
Put 2 tbsp of oil in a large saute pan, and place over medium heat. Add the sunflower kernels in the pan and sautée until golden brown. Transfer to the prepared bowl with a paper towel and set aside. Add the remaining ¼ cup of the oil to the pan, along with the onions and ¾ tsp of salt.
Return the pan to medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and pale golden, but not caramelized. Add 2 tbsp of sumac, then the remaining 2 tsp of cumin, and a grind of black pepper and mix well until the onions are coated. Remove from heat and set aside.
When ready to assemble, preheat the broiler and slice or tear the pita into fourths or sixths. Place under the broiler for 2 – 3 minutes, to crisp up, then arrange on a large platter.
Top the bread with half of the onions.
Followed by all of the chicken and any chicken juices left behind in the pan.
Either keep each piece of chicken as is, or roughly shred it, into large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions on top, sprinkle with sunflower seeds, parsley, remaining 1 ½ tsp of sumac, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once with the yogurt and lemon wedges.