I was first inspired to cook this dish after joyfully watching Nigel Slater's Middle East and reminiscing about my time spent living in Jordan. I whipped this recipe up for a close friend who was eager to try a Middle Eastern dish and we both loved the result, the juicy chicken thighs notably absorbed the tartness of the fresh lemons, the nuttiness of the za'atar that we lovingly rubbed on the meat (be prepared to get your hands dirty) and the slight sourness of the sumac.
However, the aforementioned spices may sound completely unfamiliar to you but fear not all will be explained!
About Za'atar and Sumac
Za'atar and Sumac are unusual and magical spices liven up any recipe, Za'atar is typically eaten sprinkled on bread with oil, with labneh (rich strained yogurt) on meat or on grilled vegetables such as aubergine. Admittedly, Za'atar can be difficult to find at a non-exorbitant price however it is very simple to make yourself at home The Za'atar spice blend consists of toasted sesame seeds and spices (ground cumin, ground Sumac, dried marjoram, fresh oregano), the trick is to toast the seeds in a dry pan, on a high heat for one to two minutes. Then place all the ingredients in a blender and process until finely mixed. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.
Sumac, on the other hand is widely available in supermarkets (thankfully) and is made from dried red fruits, it has a magical glittering purple color that makes it stand out compared the dull browns and deep oranges of other spices. In Iran and other nations of the Middle East, sumac is in fact served as a condiment just like salt and pepper.
This recipe, is essentially a glorified tray-bake served with toasted freekeh and a fresh Moroccan salad. Freekeh is an ancient grain that derives from Levantine and North African cuisines and is made from green durum wheat that is roasted and rubbed to create its distinct nutty flavor.
Ingredients (Serves 4-5)
6 chicken thighs
1* 20g pack of flat-leaf parsley (for garnish)
3 tbsp of Za'atar
350g of freekeh, or 1 packet of Merchant gourmet pre-cooked freekeh (sold at Waitrose)
For the Marinade
3 lemons, 2 for juicing and one for slicing and placing on top
2/3 cups of virgin olive-oil
1 tbsp of sumac
1 tbsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of paprika
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (not too fine as it may burn)
For the Moroccan Salad
12 plush cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (it can be fun to use different colored tomatoes, yellow, orange)
Half a cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, sliced finely into rings
1 tsp of wholegrain mustard
A slosh olive oil for the salad dressing
an extra wedge of lemon for the dressing
a handful of flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan (to sprinkle on top)
In a mixing bowl combine the ingredients for the marinade.
Place the chicken in a deep dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover generously with the marinade, placing the pieces of onion on top. Rub the chicken thighs with the marinade liquid and work some of it underneath the skin of the chicken thighs. Cover and place the chicken in the fridge for a couple of hours, or if you're like me and are lazy/forgetful just twenty minutes is sufficient for the meat to absorb those wonderful flavors.
Preheat the oven to 180 °C, if not a fan oven you may need slightly higher.
Roast for 40-45 minutes, always cut-open a chicken piece to make sure it is completely done. This may be a bit untidy but definitely worth it just to be sure in my opinion.
Whilst the chicken is cooking place the freekeh in a dry pan to toast it, stirring it regularly. Once you can smell the toasted aroma and the freekeh has browned slightly, remove from the heat. This process should only take a couple of minutes.
Place the freekeh in a pan with boiling water, and a pinch of salt 1 part freekeh and two parts water. Simmer gently for 18-20 mins until the freekeh is done, it will still have a nutty, crunchy texture.
Prepare your Moroccan salad by chopping the vegetables and making a simple dressing, of olive oil, a dash of lemon juice, the tsp of mustard and salt and pepper
Remove the chicken from heat, and sprinkle with a little more Sumac and the remaining Za’atar. Serve with the Freekeh and fresh salad, then garnish with the toasted nuts and roughly chopped fresh parsley.
The Foody Girl