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Mousakhan: Palestinian Chicken

April 18, 2021

A few weeks ago, I invited Alice Waters for Shabbat.

The legendary chef-owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, a longtime friend, was in town to work with me on a fundraiser for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen, two organizations that feed the less fortunate in Washington, D.C., where I live. It seemed only natural to invite Alice and the other visiting chefs to my home for a Shabbat dinner—a meal I’ve prepared my whole adult life. It’s an invaluable opportunity to open my home for people to enjoy hearty food, good conversation, and a connection to Judaism. It’s also a chance to include non-Jewish friends in the experience, so filled with the universal themes of shared sustenance and faith, and it’s a moment to unplug from our otherwise wired existence and, for a few hours at least, to appreciate the occasions where time does not seem to matter.

Featured in: Friday Night Wonderland


  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5large onions (about 10 cups), coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4chicken breast halves
  • 4chicken legs with thighs
  • 1cup pine nuts
  • 4tablespoons ground sumac
  • 1teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 8small pita breads, 4 large pita breads cut in half, or 1 oversized pita
Yield: 8 servings


  • Step 1

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

  • Step 2

    Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet over a low flame. Add the onions and sauté for 20 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, sprinkle on salt to taste.

  • Step 3

    Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, rubbing well into the skin.

  • Step 4

    Transfer the onions to a 9- by 12-inch baking dish and place the chicken on top.

  • Step 5

    Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 15 minutes more.

  • Step 6

    Drizzle a tablespoon or so of the remaining olive oil into a frying pan. Heat the oil, then add the pine nuts. Fry over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pine nuts are browned.

  • Step 7

    Put the sumac, allspice, cloves, and pine nuts in a small bowl and mix.

  • Step 8

    Remove the chicken from the oven and sprinkle on the sumac-pine nut mixture. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top and return the dish to the oven. Continue baking for 20-25 more minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken from the oven.

  • Step 9

    Preheat the broiler. Transfer each chicken piece to a round of pita bread, or place all the chicken pieces over the oversized pita. Sprinkle the onions, with a small amount of the cooking liquid, on top and around the chicken. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and broil for 5 minutes, watching closely to prevent burning.