Chicken with Onions and Sumac (Djaj bi-Basal wa Sumac)

  • Serves

    serves 4


This lemony, perfumed chicken dish uses a fragrant stock to temper the acidity of lemon and sumac. It appears in the now out-of-print cookbook Seductive Flavors of the Levant.


  • 1 medium roasting chicken, cut into pieces
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 white onions, one peeled whole and studded with 5 cloves, one peeled and sliced
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • ⅓ cups pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp. sumac
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¾ cups lemon juice


Step 1

Make the stock: Place chicken pieces and neck and back into water over high heat in a large, heavy pot. Add celery, the clove-studded onion, cinnamon stick, and loose peppercorns. Bring to a boil, skim, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour. Remove chicken from the stock and allow to cool. Reserve 1-¼ cups cooking liquid and set aside. (Keep the remaining stock for another use.)

Step 2

While the chicken is cooling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and add pine nuts. Cook until they take on a medium-golden hue, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Remove the pine nuts using a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the oil in pan. Add sliced onions to the oil and sweat over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sumac, salt, pepper, allspice and cinnamon; turn off heat and stir in lemon juice. Add the reserved cooking liquid to this mixture and set aside.

Step 3

Preheat oven to 350. Shred the chicken using your fingers (discarding bones) and place it in a baking dish. Pour the onion mixture over the chicken and bake for 25 minutes, or until the meat is slightly browned and the liquid has reduced by about a third. When the chicken is done, serve it hot over white rice or warm pita, topped with the toasted pine nuts.

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