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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Musakhan - The heart of Palestinian Cuisine

Serves 4  | Easy

Musakhan is a very simple dish to prepare, that can definately be described as comfort food. For me, Musakhan means Grandma, roots, early childhood, and home. So for me it doesn't get any better.
Musakhan belongs to the Palestinian Cuisine, where originally it was prepared by peasants & farmers to kind of test and celebrate their produce - mainly Olive Oil. They say that a good Grade Olive Oil Musakhan can never cause heart burn. If it does, then the quality of Olive Oil isn't good. Also imprtant to Musakhan preparation is the quality of Summac, which lends a sour-like flavour.

Musakhan is usually made using 'Taboon Bread', a thick and bubbled bread that peasants used to prepare at home. The bread is supposed to be simple to prepare using the 'Traditional Oven' available at most houses back in the day. They also used to prepare it using their own home-raised hickens that used to run around their front yard (our modern translation is Free Range)   :)

 Nowadays, industrial bakeries prepare this bread, which people buy ready to eat. Although it is ideal to use Taboon Bread, it is not found everywhere; like here in Dubai it is hard to get hold of Taboon Bread, so you can substitute with 'Shrak Bread'  a wafer thin bread, found in most supermarkets, and occasionally at lebanese markets. Shrak Bread is traditionally used with Mansaf as well.

For reparing the Chicken
You Need
1 whole Chicken, Cut into 4 pieces
1 large onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 Bay Leaves
3 Whole Cloves
3 Cardamon Seeds, lightly crushed
5 Black Pepper Corns
Salt & Black Pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon

For Preparing Musakhan
500g Onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Summac
Salt & Black Pepper
1 cup Chicken Broth
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup toasted Pine Nuts
4 Taboon bread rounds or Shrak bread

Start by Cooking the Chicken to make some broth as well. You can either roast the chicken, and collect the juices (which is my preferred way for preparing chicken for Musakhan) or you can use the same method for making chicken broth to get the broth and cook the chicken.

Here is how you can make the chicken broth,
Clean your chicken pieces, and rub them with lemon juice. Set aside. Sweat the onion, & Garlic in a drizzle of olive oil, until translucent bt not browned. Add chicken pieces, and stir. Add spices & Seasoning and stir all to coat. Top with water and cook till chicken is cooked through.

Remove from heat. Separate the meat from broth (reserving the broth). Place chicken pieces in a baking dish, brush tops with a little vegetable oil and set Aside

In a large pot, put 1/4 cup Olive oil and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the onions are tender, but not browned. Lower the heat if necessary. Add the Summac and stir to mix, then add broth. Cook till onions are cooked through (very soft, but not browned) and liquids have reduced by 1/2.

Meanwhile, add 1/3 cup of prepared onions to the Chicken pieces, and broil the chicken in a preheated oven till golden.

It is traditionally served by dipping full bread rounds in the onion oil, then pouring some of the onion mixture atop the bread - but you can cut your bread in any size you like. Dip the middle of the bread lightly in the Musakhan liquids, place rounds on serving platter and top with a large spoon of musakhan onions. Traditionally, the breads topped with onion are stacked on top of each other in a large serving platter, topped with the chicken pieces. But you can place each serving in guest's plate topped with chicken. Or you can place bread in one serving platter and chicken in another. It is really a matter of what you prefer and the feel you are going after. Once all done and stacked sprinkle the whole with some sumac and the toasted pine nuts.

Musakhan Rolls
A Thought
I remember, many years ago, I decided to serve Musakhan in rolls to reduce the mess and to make for a more elegant presentation. Nowadays, Musakhan Rolls are a staple snack & party item. I have also offered Musakhan Pizza to my catering clients, which was also very popular. I always like to add a twist to the traditional, make it a bit more modern, more interesting. I even call it 'Reviving Old Traditions' where I like to bring back a very good, old recipe tend to become pushed aside, and put a twist on presentation,  make them look cool or modern instead of old and tired, in order to revive them and keep them alive.

I tell my Arabic Cooking trainees all the time that we should all work on bringing back this cuisine's classics, as they are delicious and would be a shame for them to become just a piece of history! I extend this to you to, why not rediscover old recipes, revamp them and offer them to your guests, they will love the food and the artistry behind the new and improved dish :) 
This is how we can keep our Arabic cuisine alive, and evolving!

Musakhan Pizza
Thank you for reading this post, I hope you have enjoyed it and learnt how to make the delicious Palestinian Musakhan. 

PS if you do come up with a 'Reviving Old Traditions' Recipe, a new flavour to an old recipe, a better combination to an old dish, or a unique presentation to an old traditional food; and would like to tell people about it, then send us the recipe, and some pictures along with your name, and we will post it here for you for others to try. (It will be posted as your recipe)

Try it, you will love it :)