This recipe for sumac-dusted roast chicken is not only easy to prepare, but is also an excellent introduction to the spice called sumac, and by extension, the charming simplicity of Lebanese cookery. The purple-maroon spice is used extensively in this cuisine; canisters of ground sumac take the place of ground pepper in most Lebanese restaurants I’ve visited.
A sour spice ground from dried shrub berries to a gritty consistency, sumac is used much like vinegar, lemon juice, or tamarind. It has a pleasant tanginess similar to tart apples, making it seem less harsh than the other aforementioned souring agents. Sumac is probably best known as an essential component in the savory spice blend Zaatar, where it is mixed with thyme and toasted sesame seeds.
Sprinkled with sumac and olive oil, the chicken is roasted over a bed of slivered onions and pita bread. The outer edges of the pita bread will crisp, contrasting sharply against the moist center soaked with olive oil and juices from the roasting chicken. The pita bread essentially turns into a Lebanese take on stuffing, but with a bit of crunch.