This was a request from my current house guest. He’s an expat from Singapore, a city with an incredible food scene, but one which is so so different to ours. He’s excited by the new flavours and textures in Lebanese food and requested this for lunch today.
I am planning a series on local and Lebanese ingredients, but for now a short explanation about za’atar and sumac will have to suffice. Za’atar is a herb mix originating from Arabia, but no one is quite sure where specifically. It’s most commonly associated globally with Lebanon, but it’s used all over the region, in varying forms. The main ingredient is thyme, and this is mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. Sometimes cumin, coriander or fennel seeds are added. Za’tar is becoming really easy to buy in the West, most supermarkets stock it, but I would highly recommend buying variants from any Middle Eastern stores you see- you may find a new blend you prefer. Many of the mass-produced blends add roasted flour which makes it quite ‘dusty’ in texture and taste. Sumac is made from dried and ground sumac berries and has a really unusual flavour. Here I use it to flavour the chicken, but I often mix it into tomato soups, or add it to salads.
For a much healthier lunch, I suggest serving the chicken, onion, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts over a bed of rocket.
I made this with a whole wheat homemade pastry as I needed to test the recipe for work, but let’s be honest- I’m not sure it’s worth making pastry these days- the frozen ready-to-roll stuff in the supermarket is so easy to use. If you want to make it yourself, just use your preferred pastry recipe.
Za’atar Caramalised Onion and Sumac Chicken Tart
1 short crust sheet ready-to-roll pastry
1/4 cup olive oil + 2 Tbsp for chicken
2 large white onions, sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp za’atar
4 tbsp sumac
3 chicken breasts
3 tbsp pomegranate seeds
4 tbsp pine nuts
Roll out the pastry to fit a 30cm x 15cm rectangular baking tin. Line the tin with baking parchment and put in the tin, ensuring a lip on all four sides to hold in the filling. Cook according to the instructions until the pastry is a golden brown. Take out and cool completely.
Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a heavy pan. On medium heat fry the onion and garlic, after 3 minutes add the salt, pepper, sugar and za’atar. Stir to coat everything and turn the heat down to low. Leave to caramalise stirring gently occasionally. Make sure the sugar doesn’t burn. After approx 40 minutes, when the onion is soft and dark brown remove from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp sumac. Pour into a colander to drain off the excess oil. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade. Cover the chicken with 2 tbsp and then coat with the remaining sumac. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes. When done cover with foil to stop the chicken drying out.
When you are ready to assemble the tart place the tart on a serving plate. Put the onion in the bottom, then slice the chicken very thinly. Layer this on top, followed by pomegranate, and pine nuts. Sprinkle with more sumac and garnish with fresh thyme if you have some.