Chicken With Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon

I have a habit of tweaking recipes and occasionally completely reinventing them as I go along. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have exactly the right ingredients to hand but if I’m honest, it’s pathological. It’s an affliction, I just can’t help myself.

But once in a while a recipe comes along that I don’t change.  This is one such.  You can’t improve on perfection, right? I will cook this again and again. I think the flavours are sensational. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s first cookery book, called – with admirable economy – Ottolenghi, The Cookbook.

Image of spices on a shelf

It uses sumac,  a spice made from the crushed berries of a Mediterranean tree. It’s dark red and has a pungent lemony kick.

It also uses za’atar, a Middle Eastern blend of dried thyme, toasted sesame seeds and salt (and sometimes more sumac and more herbs). Both are stocked in good supermarkets or buy them online from the awesome Spice Shop:

I’ll give you the original recipe quantities, which are for four people. I cooked it for two but used the same quantities of everything except the chicken.

Yotam Ottolenghi suggests serving the chicken with a garlicky yoghurt sauce he says is almost addictive. I disagree. It’s completely addictive, a sort of Middle Eastern alternative to garlic mayo, and much quicker and easier to make. Just make sure everyone in the family eats it. It’s potent stuff.

Simply mix Greek yoghurt with crushed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I used about 250 g of yoghurt, three or four garlic cloves, a couple of good healthy glugs of olive oil and seasoned it to taste.

Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar and Lemon

Image of dish served with couscous


1 large chicken, divided into quarters

2 red onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 1/2 tspn ground allspice

1 tspn ground cinnamon

1 tbsp sumac

1 lemon, very thinly sliced

200 ml chicken stock or water

1 1/2 tspn salt

1 tspn freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp za’atar

20g butter, preferably unsalted

50g pine nuts

4 tbsn chopped flat-leaf parsley


Image of chicken with the marinade ingredients

Slash the chicken to allow the flavours to penetrate.

In a large bowl, mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices (but not the za’atar), lemon, stock or water, salt and pepper. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking tray big enough to take the chicken lying flat and spaced apart. Place the chicken skin-side up.

Image of marinated chicken ready for the oven

Sprinkle the za’atar over the chicken and onions and lemons and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is coloured and cooked through.

Image of cooked dish

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small frying pan, add the pine nuts and a pinch of salt and cook over a moderate heat, stirring continuously, until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Transfer the hot chicken, onions and lemons to a serving plate and garnish with the chopped parsley, pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. You can sprinkle on more za’atar and sumac if you like.

Image of Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar and Lemon

The chicken is moist and delicious, the onions melt into a silky mass, the pine nuts give extra texture – but it’s the roasted lemons together with the citrussy sumac that provide the pungent taste burst that really blows your head off. In a good way. 

6 thoughts on “Chicken With Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon

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  2. Hello Linda, I finally got around to making chicken with sumac, zaatar and lemon last night, and it is a thing of wonder. It is so, so delicious, and so, so easy.

  3. He is indeed a genius Linda. It was like nothing I have tasted before, and I have eaten a fair bit of Middle Eastern food over the years (mainly Syrian).

    It was a dinner party major success, so thank you very much indeed.

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