Musakhan – Palestinian Roasted Chicken with Sumac

I wanted to introduce you to a wonderful bold spice that is probably unfamiliar to some of you.

Step forward, Sumac. 

This wonderfully flavoursome spice derives from the berry of a plant called ‘Rhus Coriaria’ that ranges from bright red to plum in colour and is grown wild throughout the Middle East and some parts of the Mediterranean. Whilst you can buy the berry whole, it is more often purchased dried coarsely or finely ground. The Romans used it as a souring agent as it has similarities to lemons in its tangy, tart taste.

Whilst ambling around the spice market in Turkey this summer, I purchased some to last me for quite some time.  However, like most things these days it is also available closer to home and can be purchased at most supermarkets or Middle Eastern food stores.

So as to appreciate fully the qualities of the spice I thought a straightforward version of the ubiquitous Palestinian dish,  Musakhan, would be a great place to start. The ingredients are simple and yet make a most appetising meal that can be enjoyed by all the family. It’s definitely a meal that you have to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, so as to speak, and it requires you to eat it ideally with your fingers – far more satisfying. A number of the recipes for this dish talk about the  sumac chicken and onions (and sometimes also allspice and saffron!) on a flat bread that then gets toasted and scattered with toasted pine nuts, but I thought I would create the dish in a wrap form to make it easier to pick up and eat. I leave it to you to consume in either the flat or rolled form, both will be equally delicious I assure you.

Musakhan

Adapted from moodfoodblog.com

1 whole chicken

75g sumac

6 onions (mix of red and white ideally), thinly sliced

3 tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

100ml chicken stock

salt and pepper

10-12 Middle Eastern flat bread

1. Place the half the sumac, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper over the chicken and leave to marinade for a few hours or overnight

2. Preheat an oven to 180 degree and roast the chicken for 1 hour or until cooked

3. Meanwhile, place the rest of the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onions along with the rest of the sumac until the onions are  soft

4. Add the chicken stock to the onions and stir in thoroughly for a couple of minutes

5. When the roast chicken is cooked leave to cool slightly and then shred the chicken, using a fork, from the carcass. There will be lots of juices from the chicken and sumac so place these into a dish with the shredded chicken.

If you want to keep the remains of the carcass you could make this chicken soup.

6. On the Middle Eastern flat breads place the shredded chicken, soft juicy onions and wrap tightly and place back into the oven for a couple of minutes to heat through. Then serve immediately with a quarter of lemon on the side.

As an alternative you could serve the shredded chicken hot and warm up the flat breads and let your guests serve themselves and create their own wraps, in the same way that you would make your own duck spring roll!

I served mine with a green salad which was full of olives, gherkins and tomatoes. A garlicky yoghurt or raita would also work exceptionally well.

Smother the uncooked chicken with the sumac, olive oil, lemon, pepper and salt and leave to marinade for a couple of hours or if you are really well planned, overnight! I love the bright redness of the spice.

Shred the roasted chicken and mix it with all the juices that have come from the roasting. The taste is divine.

Be careful not to overfill or you will find it hard to warp and then hold and eat.

The finished product. Roasted chicken with sumac, lemon and onion wrap. They are totally addictive and I assure you it is easy to polish off quite a few.


Turkish Delights and Coban Salatasi

I have just returned from two glorious weeks spent exploring Turkey’s ancient Lycian Peninsula, which is in the south west of the country, by the warm azure waters of the Mediterranean.

The area is steeped in history with numerous ruins and tombs dating back over 2000 years. I couldn’t help thinking when I was exploring  and clambering all over these ruins (no health and saftey in Turkey!) that our Stonehenge is well, how can I put this delicately, a little underwhelming, if you compare it to all the ancient Lycian ruins. In the cooler months (April and October) guided walks are on offer through Lycia taking in the ruins of lost civilizations, the flora and fauna of the mountain passes and ambling through the charming Turkish villages, many of which seemed to have stood still in time. Perhaps not an adventure to take on with small children but definitely on my to do list for the future.

Ruins of Patara 

We did however, get the chance to soak up the ruins of: Letoon, which was the main religious centre of Lycia, Xanthos – the captial city of Lycia in the late Hellenistic and Roman times, Patara – an ancient city party submerged (ready to be truly discovered) under 12km of sand dunes, Tlos with its spectacular rock tombs carved out of the rock face and Kekova – the sunken city from 2000 years ago. At Kekova you are forbidden to swim and snorkel as the treasures from the old town are there for you to see clearly from a glass bottom boat or canoe. It was quite easy to see the  pots as we sailed gently passed.

Patara’s impressive amphitheatre

Tlos amphitheatre beneath the Taurus mountains

In a bid to absorb ourselves in authentic Turkey as opposed to full on ‘tourist Turkey’, we based ourselves slightly in land, firstly in the Kaya valley and the following week high up in the Taurus mountains. Both locations where a stones thrown from the glorious beaches but far enough away so that we were able to sample another calmer, slower side to Turkey.

Cooler breezes gave us welcome respite from the coast and we enjoyed seeing how the locals pass their days.

our neighbour with her goat

On a couple of days we managed to hire a boat for the day (complete with on-board cook – result!) so that we could see the coast line from the waters and swim in sheltered bays only reachable by boat.

Pretty harbour at Ucagiz

I was amused to see a local selling ice cream from his boat, similar to the one I had seen a few weeks previously on the south coast in England. Clearly all the rage around the world!!

The absolute highlight of our time on the water was when Big A and Little Z both caught rather large fish at the same time. We were all so thrilled by this, even the Captain was impressed as I think he did not think they would catch anything using the hand held real as opposed to a rod. We took them to the local town where they gutted and grilled them for us so that we could have them for lunch. It was great for the girls to see the full cycle of catching a fish and then having it washed, cleaned and gutted before being grilled and then eaten, all within a couple of hours of being caught. Wonderfully fresh and we all agreed, very tasty. We weren’t too sure what the fish were exactly but they tasted delicious and the girls were delighted at being such able fisherwomen. Definitely a life long memory.

The morning’s catch!

When abroad I always enjoy discovering the different local foods and dishes on offer, as well as the spices and herbs that are commonplace.

At the spice market I bought: pink peppercorns, sumac, pul biber  (dried flaked pepper), dried mint tea, a marinade for fish

Turkey is bountiful with wonderful fruit trees bursting with offerings, some ready now – such as figs, grapes, peaches and cactus fruit (prickly pears) and others not quite ready for a month or two – namely pomegranate. I discovered the carob fruit that was completely new to me but I immediately took a liking to its sweet chewy undertones.

Carob fruit in centre of photo – they look like large vanilla pods.

I discovered that it has been cultivated for over 4000 years and that is also known as ‘St John’s bread’ or ‘locust bean’ as the pods were mistaking thought to be the ‘locusts’ eaten by John the Baptiste in the wilderness – although this was proved to be wrong as he ate migratory locusts. It has a honey taste to it and is in fact used as a substitute to sugar. I am certainly going to seek out the powder form and try baking with it this autumn – watch this space. Another interesting fact is that the beans are ground down to make a cocoa substitute, that although slightly different tasting, has a lot less calories and virtually fat free. It is also packed with vitamins (A, B, B2, B3, D). Check out this website which will tell you in more details about the carob fruit’s benefits. I also like John’s youtube summary of the fruit. I would love to grow a carob tree here in the UK, but I fear that our sporadic sun shine may not help it thrive like the ones in the Mediterranean and in California.

The girls discovered a new treat known as ‘gozleme’, which is basically Turkey’s answer to an Italian calzone. The dough is rolled out on a round surface and then half of it is stuffed with a contents of your choice – we liked spinach, feta and potatoes and then folded over to create a crescent. This is then put onto a hot circular surface that is heated underneath by an open fire. The whole process was mesmerizing to watch and the finished snack was polished off in no time at all.

Preparing our gozleme

As the weather was ridiculously hot, salads became a staple at meal times. The most popular salad in Lycia seemed to be ‘Coban Salasti’ otherwise known as ‘Shepherd’s Salad’. It appeared on every menu and is ridiculously easy to make and perfect in hot weather. The trick is to cut the vegetables up  really small – far smaller than I would normally when making a salad.

Coban Salatasi – Shepherd’s Salad

Serves 4

2 large tomatoes (or 3 small), finely chopped

3 Turkish green peppers (the long thin ones), finely chopped

2 small cucumbers, finely chopped

1/2 (half) a white onion

1 large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1. Finely chop all the ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix together.

2. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste and serve.

So what have you been up to this summer? Any food foraging or discoveries in foreign lands? Don’t be shy and leave a message below, I’d love to hear from you.