Sababa, an Arabic word, has come to mean “cool” or “awesome” in Hebrew slang. The Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes included in the 2019 cookbook Sababa by Adeena Sussman, is the perfect Shabbat or Sunday dinner. It’s not difficult to make and is a wonderful change from the typical roast chicken. I can attest that it is truly Sababa! The resulting chicken is incredibly moist and juicy and loaded with flavor.
I find it amusing that all of a sudden Middle Eastern food is “in.” Every time I open a newspaper to the food section, another Middle Eastern dish, restaurant or chef is being lauded. It is wonderful that this rich and varied cuisine is receiving its due, but many of us happily been enjoying it for years.
Like this Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes, many of the dishes rely on fresh foods livened by a liberal use of herbs and spice mixtures. Za’atar can be found already mixed in many grocery stores these days and is easily available online. You can, of course, make your own if you wish. It is originally a blend of the Biblical hyssop, sesame and salt. Wild thyme is often used in place of the hyssop. Sumac, which was cultivated in Mishnaic times is high in vitamin C and lends a wonderful citrus flavor to foods as well as a lovely almost saffron color.
This dish is simple to create and I paired it with a tomato basil bisque and a lovely salad. For dessert I made tahini cookies, which can be easily whipped up and will last for days in an airtight container – that is, if you can resist eating them all!
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
1 roasting chicken, approx. 4 pounds
5 to 6 smallish red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
4 Tablespoons EVOO
2 Tablespoons ground sumac
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (If you are using Kosher chickens, you will probably want less added salt.)
1 small lemon
5 Tablespoons Za’atar Spice blend
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 to 3 large garlic cloves
6 fresh thyme sprigs
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the potatoes and shallots in a rectangular baking dish large enough to hold everything (about 9 x 13). Toss the potatoes and shallots with 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO, all of the sumac and about 3/4 teaspoon of salt and some generous cracks of black pepper.
Rinse and pat dry the chicken, being sure that there are no giblets inside. (If there are giblets, remove them and freeze them for soup.) Season the inside and outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.
Zest the lemon into a bowl and then halve the lemon and set the pieces aside. Add the remaining EVOO to the lemon zest along with 4 Tablespoons of the za’atar and the red pepper flakes. Mix gently.
Place the chicken, breast side up, on top of the potatoes and shallots. Stuff the lemon halves (I could only get one half in so saved the other half for another use), garlic and thyme sprigs into the cavity of the chicken. Tie the legs together with some kitchen twine.
Rub the za’atar mixture all over the outside of the chicken and a bit under the breast skin if you like.
Roast the chicken for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Continue roasting for 1 hour and 20 minutes more or until the juices run clear and the leg jiggles easily when pulled. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Cut the chicken right over the potatoes so that the juices run over the vegetables.