Bursting with Sumac flavour and wrapped in thin Arabic bread, these Palestinian Musakhan rolls are perfect for casual gatherings or even as a quick meal. Shredded chicken, sumac-infused olive-oil-fried onions, and toasted pine nuts rolled in thin flatbreads and baked to crispy rolls.
Back in 2017, while I was in Saudi Arabia, I stumbled upon Sumac in a local supermarket's spice aisle. The vibrant brick-red dust flakes looked too good not to try. Once I learnt about the spice, I used it in making Musakhan-inspired dishes. I've been refilling my Sumac jar ever since.
So, it is only fair to share a simple recipe that includes my love for Arabic food and encourage you to try Sumac if you haven't already.
What is a Musakhan Roll?
Musakhan rolls are a creative adaptation of the traditional Palestinian dish known as "Musakhan." In its classic form, Musakhan (Arabic for "something that is heated") combines baked bone-in chicken, sumac-infused caramelized onions, and Arabic spices atop Taboon flatbread. The idea of turning this traditional dish into chicken rolls is clever and straightforward!
Instead of using flatbread as a base, the tasty components like spiced chicken and caramelized onions get rolled up in thin Arabic bread. This creates an easy-to-eat finger food that combines all the beloved flavours of Musakhan in one convenient package.
Why you should try this?
Here are my six reasons why you should absolutely try this musakhan rolls recipe:
- Easy to make ahead and freeze.
- Great as an appetizer or a light meal.
- Perfect for busy weeknights with minimal ingredients.
- A fun alternative to plain sandwiches for lunch.
- Picnic-friendly as these are portable and versatile – enjoy them cold or at room temperature.
- Ideal for a romantic Middle Eastern feast when prepared as a couple's activity. wink.
Bonus: If you're a fan of Musakhan rolls from your go-to Middle Eastern eatery, you'll save a lot by making this at home. Believe me, I did the math: Normally, we shell out about 30 to 40 AED (8 to 10 USD) for a half-dozen Musakhan rolls. I prepared this entire batch of two dozen for under 30 AED.
I only had to buy chicken and markouk bread. It's a win-win when you factor in how simple this recipe is.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Making Musakhan Rolls is quite straightforward and requires only a handful of ingredients that you can easily find at your local grocery store or Middle Eastern stores.
- Sumac: This is the main spice used in Musakhan so it would be best if you can find a pack from your local Middle Eastern or Indian store. The brick-red dust is sour, slightly fruity and astringent giving a lemony taste to the dish. If interested, you can read all about Sumach here.
- Chicken: I have used boneless chicken thighs. You can use a whole chicken or bone-in whole legs. You may use mixed parts but avoid using only breasts as they can become dry and chewy. Adjust the cooking time. You can skip and use any leftover rotisserie chicken.
- Extra virgin olive oil: It is the best for this recipe but you may use a light olive oil.
- Whole spices: You will need bay leaves, black peppercorns, cloves and cardamoms.
- Red onions: You may use yellow or white onions.
- garlic clove: This is used only in chicken broth making.
- Ground spices: You can use any Arabic 7-spice mix or use only ground allspice and cinnamon.
- Parsley leaves: This adds freshness to the finished dish. You may skip or use fresh cilantro or mint.
- pine nuts: The traditional dish uses pine nuts, so we include these in the rolls too. But, I agree pine nuts cost an arm and a leg. If you don't have, just use chopped almonds.
- Thin flatbread: I have used marqook which is a large thin Arabic bread that may also be labelled as, markook, shrak or saj. You can also use similar bread to a flour tortilla. In a pinch, you may use freshly baked Lebanese pita bread.
See the recipe card for quantities.
How to make chicken Musakhan Rolls? It is easier than it sounds. I am sharing a musakhan rolls recipe from scratch. This involves cooking the dark chicken meat for broth and shredding it by hand. The chicken for musakhan is usually boiled or baked covered to obtain the broth.
I have used an Instant Pot, but you can do this in a pot on a stove or pressure cooker.
Place chicken thighs, whole spices, garlic, and half an onion in the Instant Pot with sufficient water. Pressure cook for 8-10 minutes using the Soup/Broth preset.
When done, wait for 5 minutes and then turn the valve to Quick-Release the pressure.
Open and remove the chicken and keep it aside. Strain the broth and keep it aside for later. You will only need about half a cup of broth.
Use your hands to shred the chicken and keep it aside.
Tip: Store the leftover chicken broth in the refrigerator for future recipes, such as dal fry. When it's chilled, the fat will solidify on top, making it easy to scoop and discard if you prefer not to use it.
Heat a shallow pan with olive oil. Add the sliced onions and saute until they turn pink.
Next, add half the quantity of sumac and the ground spices.
Add the shredded chicken. Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.
Add the remaining sumac and ½ cup of broth.
Drizzle a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust the salt and cook until the broth is absorbed. Switch off.
Stir in the toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley leaves. You can make this filling a day ahead and keep it in the fridge.
I like to cut the round flatbread into wedges, much like slicing a pizza. You may do long straight strips instead. In this case, you don't have to seal and wrap.
Take a piece and place a tablespoon of the sumac chicken in the wide end of the bread. You can add more or less filling depending on the size of the bread piece.
Roll the flatbread to cover the filling.
Bring the two edges inside and start rolling towards the pointed end. You do not have to seal these rolls.
Place them in a greased oven-friendly pan seam side down. Repeat until the sumac chicken is used up. TIP: At this point, you can cling wrap and refrigerate the pan to bake the next day. You can also freeze some of the rolls for up to a month. Store any remaining flatbread in a tight plastic bag in the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 220C or 428F. Brush the top surface of the rolls lightly with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until the rolls turn golden and crispy. You do not have to turn or flip the rolls.
Hint: Make sure to use an oven-friendly dish that can withstand the high temperature. I was not very sure if my small glass dish would withstand the heat. It was stored as is in the fridge for a couple of days. I transferred the rolls to another cake pan and baked it after two days.
I have not tried musakhan without chicken but you can make Musakhan rolls to suit different tastes and dietary preferences. Here are a few variations I found that may interest you too:
- Vegan: Substitute the chicken with grilled tofu or mushrooms. Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and skip the dairy-based yoghurt. Find Maha's mushroom musakhan recipe.
- Beef Musakhan Rolls: Swap out the chicken for thinly sliced and marinated beef strips. You can use beef broth instead of chicken broth for added richness.
- Vegetarian Musakhan Rolls: Load up on roasted or grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and onions for a hearty and meat-free version.
- Low carb: If you have someone who is watching carb intake, use a low-carb flatbread like protein flatbread instead of Markouk.
Here's a list of what you'll typically require:
- Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker: To cook chicken with broth.
- Large Saute or Frying Pan: For sautéing the sumac onions and spices.
- Baking Sheet or pan: To bake the Musakhan rolls in the oven.
As mentioned earlier, you can make a big batch and only bake as much as you need and freeze the rest. As all the components of the dish are already cooked, the rolls can stay in the fridge for a couple of days before you bake them to golden crispy rolls.
- Leftovers: If you have leftovers of baked musakhan rolls, let them cool completely before you can store them in a food-safe container. This can stay on the counter for a day. If you don't plan to eat, then refrigerate it for not more than 3-4 days.
- Reheat using the oven to retain crispiness.
- Freezer: You can freeze the unbaked rolls in a freezer-friendly air-tight container for a month or two for the best flavour. To bake, you can either bake frozen in a metal baking pan at a lower temp for a bit longer time OR thaw to room temperature and bake as per recipe.
Remember that the texture of Musakhan rolls may change slightly after storage and reheating, but they should still be delicious.
The quantity of Musakhan rolls you make is flexible and depends on how generously you fill each one. You can opt for a hearty meal by making a few loaded rolls or limit the filling to make bite-sized appetizers perfect for snacking.
Musakhan is a traditional Palestinian dish made with roasted chicken, sumac-infused caramelized onions, and aromatic spices, all served on a bed of flatbread.
Yes, you can prepare Musakhan rolls in advance. Store them in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze them for longer storage. Reheat in the oven for best results.
If you don't have sumac, as a last resort, you may use lemon juice for its tangy flavour. To add the colour, you may use sweet paprika.
Thin flatbread, such as markouk bread or lavash, is ideal for Musakhan rolls. You can also use tortillas or other thin, pliable flatbreads.
Musakhan rolls pair well with Middle Eastern side dishes like hummus, tabbouleh, or a simple cucumber and tomato salad. They also make a great addition to a mezze platter.
Cutting the flatbread into wedges is easy. You can fold it and use scissors or a knife to create uniform wedges for your rolls. You may also just cut the bread into long rectangular strips and use it to roll without having to seal the sides. As these are baked, there is no need to wrap them like spring rolls.
Musakhan rolls are a creative adaptation of the traditional Palestinian dish known as "Musakhan." These rolls likely originated from a desire to make the classic Musakhan more portable and snackable for convenience and finger foods. So, while they may not have a single, well-documented origin, they are a delightful fusion of tradition in a new and convenient format.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
Musakhan Rolls (Sumac Chicken)
For the chicken broth:
- 450-500 grams boneless chicken thighs (see notes)
- ½ small red onion halved
- 2 bay leaf
- 5 black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 cup water
For musakhan filling:
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 medium-sized onion sliced thinly
- 3 to 4 tablespoon sumac
- ¾ teaspoon Arabic spice mix (see notes)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ½ cup chicken stock or broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 tablespoon pine nuts toasted
- ¼ cup parsley leaves chopped finely
- 1 pack marqooq bread (see notes)
- Add the chicken thighs, whole spices, garlic and half an onion with enough water into the Instant Pot’s pot. Pressure-cook for 8 to 10 minutes. I used the pre-set Soup/Broth button.450-500 grams boneless chicken thighs, ½ small red onion, 2 bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns, 2 cloves, 1 garlic clove, 1 cup water
- When done, wait for 5 minutes and then Quick-Release the pressure. Open and remove the chicken and keep it aside. Strain the broth and keep it aside for later. You can opt to cook on a stove in a medium-sized stew pot or pressure cooker. (see notes)
- Use your hands to shred the chicken and keep it aside.
Prepare musakhan filling:
- Heat a shallow pan with olive oil. Add the sliced onions and saute until they turn pink.⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 to 3 medium-sized onion
- Add a tablespoon of sumac, spices and the shredded chicken. Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.3 to 4 tablespoon sumac, ¾ teaspoon Arabic spice mix, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder, Salt and pepper to taste
- Add the remaining sumac, ½ cup of broth, and olive oil. Taste and adjust the salt and cook until the broth is absorbed. Switch off.½ cup chicken stock
- Stir in the toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley leaves. You can make this filling a day ahead and keep in the fridge.2-3 tablespoon pine nuts, ¼ cup parsley leaves
Cut the flatbread:
- Cut the round flatbread into wedges, much like slicing a pizza. Start by folding it in half to create a half-moon shape. Next, use scissors to cut along the folded edge.1 pack marqooq bread
- Then, re-fold the half-moon once more to form a quarter-circle and cut along the fold.
- Finally, re-fold it in half again and cut it to create a stack of triangle-shaped pieces.
Make the rolls:
- Take a cut piece of bread and place a tablespoon of the sumac chicken in the wide end of the bread. Bring the two edges inside and start rolling towards the pointed end. You do not have to seal these rolls. Place them in a greased oven-friendly pan seam side down.
- Repeat until the sumac chicken is used up. At this point, you can cling wrap and refrigerate the pan to bake the next day. You can also freeze some of the rolls for up to a month. Store any remaining flatbread in a tight plastic bag in the freezer.
Bake the rolls:
- Preheat the oven to 220℃. Brush the top surface of the rolls lightly with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until the rolls turn golden and crispy. You do not have to turn or flip the rolls.
- Remove from oven and serve warm with plain or salted yoghurt and any green salad.
Recipe inspired by weekend food takeaways from Middle Eastern restaurants. 🙂 Adapted the traditional Musakhan recipe from the book, Plated Heirlooms by Dima Sharif.
If you tried this recipe, please consider leaving a review in the comment section with your star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating. I'd love to hear from you!