I was driving around Dallas and stumbled on a tiny bakery with the name Phoenicia Bakery. I immediately got out of the car to investigate and met a sweet lady inside who told me she was from West Bekaa, in Lebanon; she and her husband are making traditional Lebanese bread like this markook that is used for the mussakhan. Also called lavash bread, it is paper-thin and very large. In Lebanon, it is prepared by hand by women, crouching and using a pillow to rest the bread on before it is thrown inside the wall cavity of a stone oven. Very dramatic to watch, fascinating. I don’t know how Fadia and her husband are making it here in Dallas, but the result is delicious and very authentic. If you are not fortunate enough to access some markook, you can substitute pita or even phyllo dough that is sold in all the supermarkets now.
1 chicken weight about 3 lbs, skinned and deboned OR 2 lbs of boneless chicken thighs
1 1/2 lbs of yellow onions, sliced in thin rings or chopped coarsely
2 heaping tablespoons of sumak
salt, pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of allspice (optional)
2 cups of homemade chicken stock (preferably)
3 pieces of markook bread, or 2 large pita breads or 6 sheets of phyllo dough, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
1/2 cup of light olive oil
- Sprinkle the sumak on the onions
- If you are using a whole chicken: debone the chicken and throw all the bones, wings, etc in a pot. Brown them in a tablespoon of oil all over , then add 4 cups of water, some flavoring (whatever you have on hand, onion, bay leaf, sprig of parsley, clove of garlic, whole peppercorns) and let it simmer for a couple of hours until the broth is fragrant and thickened and reduced to about 2 cups.
- With the remaining chicken, sprinkle spices on it (salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice) and brown it in 1/4 cup of oil till golden. Cook it only halfway, in order to finish cooking it later in the bread. Cut the bird in bite size pieces.
- If you are using boneless thighs, cut them in small bitesize pieces and brown them briefly in a couple tablespoons of oil till golden but not cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the frying pan, set it aside in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the frying pan and throw in the onions (minus the onion juice). Fry till the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Spread 2 pieces of bread in a greased flat pan. Brush the chicken broth (not defatted) on the bread lightly. Spoon half the onion mixture on the bread and then put the chicken pieces on top of the onion. Place the remaining half of the onions on top of the chicken. Enclose the chicken and onions by folding the bread, brushing it as you proceed with more chicken broth all over to keep it moist and malleable.
- Take one pice of bread and cover the chicken with it and fold the rest underneath using a spatula to help you in that operation, continuing to moisten the bread with the chicken broth.
Place in a moderate oven (about 350F) for about 30 to 45 minutes. If the bread starts to burn, cover it with a piece of foil.
If you are unable to find markook, then you can use phyllo dough. Defrost it in the refrigerator and use about 6 leaves, brushing them with melted butter or a pray, so that they get some flavor. Or, use a couple large pitas, brushing them as well with butter or the fatty chicken broth. Freeze the remaining broth.
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