The Taiwanese arrive by taxi at the meeting point, a gravel road near Hir Bet Midras (Midras ruins). The taxi driver, an Arab Israeli, decided to join the group instead of languishing in his car, the usual behavior when waiting for clients. It was a bit odd for this complete stranger to be tagging along but it turned out that this fellow, who didn’t look like anything but an overweight taxi driver was a maven for medicinal plants. Who would have guessed his father was the village medicine man and his mother, apparently the best cook. While the rest of the group was crawling into claustrophobic underground tunnels I was exchanging recipes with Mr. Taximan, like a couple of chatty housewives. Here is his recipe for Chicken on flatbread, not the most authentic with the use of paprika but if it is good enough for him it is good enough for me.
Chicken baked on flat bread
This is a tasty dish made by the Arabs of Israel and Palestine which combines tasty yeast bread, succulent chicken and lemony sumac. Musakhkhan means something that is heated and according to Clifford Wright might be the root word for the Greek moussaka. This is meant to be eaten with your hands, the best and most sensual way of doing it.
5 chicken thighs and drumsticks, do not remove skin
1 tablespoon sumac
½ tablespoon paprika
½ tablespoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper
4 onions chopped into half rings
1/2 cup pine nuts
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dry yeast
Vegetable oil for frying chicken
In a mixer, combine all the ingredients and mix on low using a dough hook. Add 1 1/4 cups of water. Add the water a little at a time while the mixer is running, on low. Touch the dough to see if it is ready, adding more water is necessary so it is soft but not sticky. Put in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place until it doubles in volume. In the winter I sometimes turn on the oven for a few minutes and once it cools I put it in.
Pat the chicken dry using paper towels and fry in hot oil until the skin is golden and the meat is still raw, remove to a plate.
Fry the onions in a generous amount of olive oil until golden brown, about 30 minutes. When frying the onions it is best to use a cast iron pan and low heat. When the onions are browned add the tomato paste and fry it for about a minute, being careful not to burn it. Add the paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, chicken and barely cover with water. Cook the chicken for about 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and soft. There should be very little sauce by this time. If there is more than a couple tablespoons remove the chicken to a plate and reduce the sauce so that it is thick and clingy. Heat the oven to 180C (350 F)
Divide the dough into 5 parts, and using your hands or a rolling pin make circular flat pizzas, about 1 cm thick and lay on parchment paper. The dough should be big enough to put one or two pieces of the chicken on it. Put a chicken portion on each piece of dough and divide the onions and sauce between them. Let stand 10 minutes. Bake in oven, preferably on the bottom part of the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until chicken is well browned and bread is baked. Meanwhile brown the pine nuts in a frying pan, moving them all the time so they don’t burn. chicken is ready sprinkle sumac and pine nuts on each piece. Serve with minced tomato and cucumber salad with lemon juice and olive oil.