A Taste of the Middle East ※ Chicken With Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon


My most recent post about the spice blend za’atar didn’t appear out of the blue; I made it specifically to use in today’s recipe. Almost a year ago, Spree, of the beautiful blog Cooking-Spree, wrote a post about chicken accompanied by red onions and lemon slices, and seasoned with spices foreign to my palate in a savoury dish. Her beautiful photos and description of the flavours were so intriguing that I was immediately captivated, and I’ve dreamed of making it ever since. Finally, last weekend the time was right.

My forays into MIddle Eastern cooking have been limited pretty much to the wonderfully fragrant and flavourful soup, harira, and I was eager to explore this cuisine further. I am so pleased that I did.


This dish is wonderfully fragrant. My kitchen was perfumed with the sweet warmth of cinnamon and allspice, the intense sour fruitiness of sumac, the invitingly bracing aromas of garlic and onion and the citrusy brightness of lemon. And that was just the marinade! Before it went into the oven za’atar added its fragrance of earthy thyme and more tangy sumac. Add the aroma of roasting chicken and, well, now you know why the Culinary Enthusiast was so eager for dinner to be ready.

We enjoyed this chicken immensely. If you can imagine how it smelled, I don’t need to tell you how good it tasted. I’m already planinng to make it again, with a couple of small tweaks. I didn’t add any additional sumac after baking, but next time I will. And, I forgot the drizzle of olive oil to finish, which I think would be a smart touch.

I encourage you to visit Spree’s post to look at her beautiful photos. They do justice to the dish in a way that mine do not. I took a half-dozen photos of the rapidly-cooling dish, returned to the kitchen and saw the chopped parsley on the counter. So, I pretty much threw it on it get some pictures with its striking green contrast; not an artistic arrangement, but we were hungry!

When you try this dish (I won’t say ‘if’ because I really think you should) it will transport you to the sunny climes and exotic cuisine of the Middle East without the expense of air fare — a trip we’d definitely like to take again.


Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon

As I mentioned above, I found this recipe on Cooking-Spree. If you haven’t visited this excellent blog yet, you’re in for a treat!

Spree adapted this recipe from Ottolenghi, and I have adapted her recipe somewhat. Isn’t that the way with the sharing of dishes? We each put our own stamp on a recipe. In this case, my adaptation is one of omission. The recipe called for pine nuts to be lightly browned in butter and scattered over the finished dish. I admit, I blanched at the price of a small container of pine nuts at the market, and decided to go ahead without them. If you want to try them, brown about a half cup of pine nuts in a tablespoon of butter with a bit of salt, then place on paper towels until it’s time to embellish the dish with them.

I bought chicken breasts and thighs — so, somewhat less than a full chicken — and adapated other quantities accordingly, but am showing the recipe in the original quantities for a whole bird.

  • 1 large chicken, cut into quarters, or equivalent chicken pieces, skin on
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground sumac
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • about 7 ounces chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp za’atar
  • a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Mix the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices (except for the za’atar), lemon slices, stock, salt and pepper. Place the chicken pieces in a large, sealable plastic bag or a glass bowl and pour the marinade over. Mix well, and if using a bowl, seal well with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. (Mine was in the fridge for about 3 hours). Note: when marinating in bags, I place the bag on a small baking tray or dish, just to be on the safe side in case of leakage.

Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper. Transfer the chicken pieces to the tray, along with the marinade. The chicken pieces should be skin-side up and well-spaced to promote browning.

Sprinkle the za’atar over the chicken. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked all the way through.

Transfer the chicken, onions and lemon to a serving platter and finish with the chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. If you like, sprinkle on more za’atar and/or sumac.



  1. I not only remember Spree’s dish, Mar. I made it! It was the first time I used sumac and za’tar. Now you’ve given me another dish to try and I’m glad it’s chicken, too. I’m on the lookout for more, unusual chicken recipes. This one will do nicely. I’ll definitely come back to let you know how it went, although I’m sure it will be very good. Your recipes haven’t let me down yet! 🙂

    • You’ll find this dish is very close to Spree’s recipe, John, although for some reason hers looked different. I’m wondering if some versions of za’atar are ground … something to research. All credit to Spree for spreading the word about this great recipe!

  2. Mar, I was so happy to see you tried this dish! Isn’t it wonderful! Your description of it are spot on and your photos are great! (I’ve experienced the same tortuous dilemma as you though watching food cool – eat or take more photos? You did the only thing you could here by eating!!) Thank you SO much for all the lovely words you spoke about my blog…so Very kind and generous of you! You lifted my spirits! 🙂 thank you!

    • My pleasure, Spree. It’s a wonderful dish, and we’re looking forward to having it again.

      Like you, I always love to hear that someone has tried and enjoyed something that I’ve posted. It always brightens my day, too!

  3. I adore spree and her blog and remember this recipe well. You’ve done a lovely job and have created your own dish.. you’re so right, that’s the true beauty of posting recipes and sharing.. we feel inspired and voila!! This looks scrumptious, I’m not surprised you were in a hurry to devour it! xx

    • I think everyone who saw Spree’s post will remember this dish. Turns out our mutual blogging friend, Chicago John, has also made it. It’s fun to see recipes make the rounds, each person putting their own spin on them, in ingredients, method or presentation.

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