Msakhan

1 hour
2 hours
3 hours
8
Msakhan is often considered the national dish of Palestine! It's a beautiful and bright dish plated on bread with lots of caramelized onions and chicken seasoned heavily with sumac. It not only gives it a beautiful color but also a tangy taste that balances with the sweetness of the onions so well!
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Msakhan

Msakhan is often considered the national dish of Palestine! It’s a beautiful and bright dish plated on bread with lots of caramelized onions and chicken seasoned heavily with sumac. It not only gives it a beautiful color but also a tangy taste that balances with the sweetness of the onions so well!

Thank you to my dear friend Hadeel Maadi, @roamingarab, for helping create this recipe! Thank you to Reem Kassis for the rock hack to make the taboon/bread!

What is Msakhan?

Msakhan is commonly seen as the national dish of Palestine! It is actually one of my favorite dishes overall as I love caramelized onions. It’s so flavorful and I always got excited whenever one of my Palestinian friends would make it.

If you scroll down to the recipe, you’ll see it calls for a hefty amount of olive oil. Palestine is home to century-old olive trees which is why they produce some of the best olive oil you’ll ever have. Here is a statement from a Palestinian:

When the Palestinians get the fresh pressed olive oil from their olive trees, it is traditional for many Palestinian families to make Musakhan since it is made with a lot of olive oil. Olive oil season is typically in October.

There is also a famous quote from Mahmoud Darwish:

“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears”– Mahmoud Darwish 

Olive trees actually contribute to 14% of Palestine’s economy and it’s not only used for food purposes but even beauty like creating soap bars. Many of the olive trees in Palestine date prior to Israeli occupation so they are a symbol of the resistance. Israeli authorities have been destroying olive trees for years, oftentimes burning them to the ground, restricting access for families to their farmland, and even blocking water to olive trees. A lot of times these attacks even happen during peak harvest season. This is a very similar tactic used against Native Americans by killing buffalos. To read more about Palestinian olive trees, check out this article here from the Yale Review of International Studies.

So many Palestinian dishes are centered around olive oil since as you can see, olive trees are a huge part of their identity. Msakhan is one of those dishes packed with olive oil and is commonly made at the same time olive trees are in season. It starts with a flatbread called taboon. Onions are then caramelized for almost an hour with lots of sumac to give it a tangy taste and beautiful pinkish-purple color. The caramelized onions are slathered on the bread and topped off with roasted chicken. It’s definitely a more complex dish so there have been a lot more modern methods of making it that have emerged like msakhan rolls.

Make the Bread

Let’s start by making the first component which is the bread. It’s pretty simple to make the dough so don’t be intimidated at all. I tried to make it as traditional as possible but there are some different methods I’ll mention to make this easier.

Here are the ingredients you need for the dough:

  • all-purpose flour
  • water
  • whole milk
  • instant yeast
  • salt
  • granulated white sugar

To a large mixing bowl, add water and whole milk. Add instant yeast and whisk together. Then add the all-purpose flour, salt, and sugar. Combine together using a hook attachment on a stand mixer or using a rubber spatula to knead by hand. Once you have a dough and knead it for 2 minutes, transfer to a well-oiled bowl. Cover and let it rest in a warm place until doubled in size.

Once proofed, punch it down and divide it into 6 equal sections. Flatten out each circle into a large circular shape.

For cooking the bread, I tried to do it as traditionally as possible. I found this method from Reem Kassis using rocks and it turned out so well.

I purchased river stones from Lowe’s and added them to a large skillet. Preheat the oven to 475°F and put the skillet in for 20 minutes before cooking the bread so the rocks can get really hot.

Once hot, transfer one flattened shaped piece of dough onto the rocks. Bake for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side and repeat with the rest. Keep covered in a clean kitchen towel until later use.

NOTE: If you don’t want to use the rock method, here are some other ways to make the bread:

  • cook on a pizza stone in the oven
  • cook in a pizza oven like in an Ooni
  • cook on the stovetop on an iron skillet
  • use naan or any store-bought flatbread

The Caramelized Onions

For the second component, we are going to be caramelizing onions. If you’ve ever caramelized onions before, you know they can take quite a bit of patience.

Msakhan uses A LOT of onions so be prepared to chop a few onions. You want to chop the onions very small, even smaller than what I chopped them. If you want a more bright pink/purple color, use red onions. If you want a more sweet taste, use yellow onions.

Add lots of olive oil to a pot over medium heat. Try to find the highest quality extra virgin olive oil you could possibly get your hands on because this will definitely affect the taste.

Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook down for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then season with lots of sumac, cumin, salt, black pepper, 7 spice, and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Continue cooking for another 30 to 40 minutes until completely cooked down and softened.

Roasting the Chicken

For the last component, we are going to make the roasted chicken which is probably the simplest part. Bone-in skin-on chicken legs is the best cut of chicken I like to enjoy with Msakhan and is the most commonly used. Of course, feel free to use any kind of chicken you like.

Here are the ingredients you need for the marinade:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • minced garlic
  • 7 spice
  • sumac
  • cardamom
  • cinnamon

Add the chicken legs to a baking tray or sheet pan and cover with marinade all over and under the skin. Roast in the oven for about 45 to 55 minutes until fully cooked in the center and golden and crispy on top. If the skin is getting too brown, you can cover it with foil and continue letting the chicken cook without browning more. As the chicken cooks, baste it 2 to 3 times with the juices in the pan.

ASSEMBLY

Finally, all the components are ready so we can assemble! Start by brushing the bread with the chicken juices for extra flavor. Spread a generous amount of the onions on each flatbread. Then add the chicken on top and finish off extra sumac, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, toasted pine nuts, and chopped parsley to enjoy.

Variations to Try

There are a few different ways to make this! Some are just slight variations and some are hacks to make this recipe a lot more easier and approachable to recreate.

  • Instead of yellow onions, you can use red onions. The taste of yellow onions is sweeter but some people prefer to use red onions because it will give a brighter pink/purple color to the caramelized onions. It can go either way.
  • The most authentic way to make msakhan is with a taboon. You can find this bread in some Middle Eastern stores if you don’t want to make it from scratch but it can be difficult to find. This is why a lot of Palestinians in the States use naan or any flatbread that resembles traditional bread.

If you tried this recipe and loved it, drop by down below and let me know how you liked it with a rating and comment! Feel free to also leave a question there about this recipe and I’ll get right back to it.

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Msakhan

Msakhan is often considered the national dish of Palestine! It's a beautiful and bright dish plated on bread with lots of caramelized onions and chicekn seasoned heavily with sumac. It not only gives it a beautiful color but also a tangy taste that balances with the sweetness of the onions so well!

Msakhan is often considered the national dish of Palestine! It's a beautiful and bright dish plated on bread with lots of caramelized onions and chicekn seasoned heavily with sumac. It not only gives it a beautiful color but also a tangy taste that balances with the sweetness of the onions so well!

1 hour
2 hours
3 hours
8

Ingredients

TABOON BREAD
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
SPICED ONIONS
  • 4 yellow or red onions, chopped small
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sumac
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon 7 spice
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses 
CHICKEN
  • 6 pieces bone-in skin-on chicken legs
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon 7 spice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • juice of half a lemon
OTHER
  • chopped parsley
  • toasted pine nuts
  • more pomegranate molasses

Instructions

MAKING THE BREAD
  1. To a large mixing bowl, add the milk and water. Sprinkle the instant yeast on top. Whisk together.
  2. To the same bowl, add the all-purpose flour, olive oil, salt, and the proofed yeast. Using a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, mix until the dough comes together and then knead for 1 minute. You can also use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to bring the dough together and then knead by hand just by folding it for a 1 minute.
  3. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with saran wrap and then a warm damp towel. Place in a warm place until double in size, about 1 hour to an hour and a half.
MAKE THE ONIONS
  1. Heat a pot over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook down for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Season the onions with sumac, cumin, salt, black pepper, and 7 spice. Mix together.
  4. Continue to cook for another 40 to 45 minutes, until completely caramelized and softened.
  5. Add a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and mix in. Set the onions aside.
BAKE THE CHICKEN
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. To a small bowl, make the marinade. Combine olive oil, salt, sumac, minced garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, 7 spice, cardamom, and lemon juice.
  3. Add the chicken legs to a baking tray or sheet pan. Cover evenly with the marinade all over and under the skin.
  4. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until golden brown and the skin is crispy and fully cooked on the inside. As it bakes in the oven, use a brush to baste it in the juices on the baking tray. If it is browning too much, cover with foil and let it keep cooking until done.
ASSEMBLY
  1. Take the chicken juices and brush the bread very generously with it.
  2. Spread the caramelized onions on the bread.
  3. Add a piece of chicken on top.
  4. Sprinkle sumac on top, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, and chopped parsley to enjoy!
Tips & Notes
   
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