jajik chicken with za'atar potatoes

Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes

Jajik is an important part of cuisines of the Middle East, Caucasus, North Africa, Mediterranean, and South Asia, but it doesn't always go by the same name. On the Indian subcontinent, there's raita, in Egypt, there's salatet zabadee, in Greece tzatziki, in Turkey cacik, and in Iraq jajik/jajeek. Most recipes I've found for Iraqi jajik include grated cucumber, which is certainly very traditional, but making jajik without cucumber is actually another conventional way to make it in the Middle East. My family's Assyrian jajik is 100% cucumberless, and flavored entirely by fresh dill. Instead of yogurt, we use cottage cheese, but the Iraqi yogurt version can be made without cucumber too.

While each variety is delicious on a toasted English muffin, I particularly love cooking with the kind flavored only with dill, black pepper, and garlic. It's not quite that cucumbers can't be cooked—they're actually delicious grilled. And just like grilled watermelon, the goal with grilling cucumbers is to give them some nice caramelized flavor on the outside, while leaving the insides totally raw. The worst is when the grilled cucumbers get that floppy stewed flavor inside. And I think that's why I've never really been a big fan of marinating chicken in cucumber jajik and then roasting it.

Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes
Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes

Instead, I love roasting chicken with a jajik more like the one I grew up with. Just like with any yogurt or buttermilk marinaded chicken, the moisture cooks off in the oven, the proteins concentrate, and you end up with nothing but tender chicken with the most delicious caramelized crust. I also like to dollop on a little extra reserved jajik right before serving. It brings back some of the fresh flavors lost to the magic of the oven.

The za'atar potatoes are just a bonus here, and you can certainly make these two dishes separately, but I don't know why you ever would, since they can go into the same oven, and then *presto* dinner! If you're looking for something to flesh out this meal, a simple green salad goes perfectly on the side (simply dress your favorite salad greens in olive oil with a little vinegar, and sprinkle with some parmesan). And if you're looking for something similar but vegetarian, jajik is also delicious over chickpeas and rice.

Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes
Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes

jajik chicken with za’atar potatoes

yield: 3 to 4 servings
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 45 minutes
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jajik chicken

  • 1 cup strained yogurt (i.e., Greek yogurt)

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced

  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 cup chopped dill

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

  • 6 boneless chicken thighs *

  • For garnish: 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill

  1. Make the jajik: Combine the yogurt, garlic, black pepper, dill, extra virgin olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt to taste). Taste it and adjust the seasoning to your preference.

  2. Divide the jajik in half, and put one half in the refrigerator, away from the raw chicken.

  3. Cover the chicken thighs with the other half of the jajik, and let them marinate for 30 minutes.

  4. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the potatoes (below).

  5. Preheat the oven to 425° F so that it will be hot by the time the chicken is done marinating.

  6. Place the marinated chicken on a sheet pan or skillet, being careful not to wipe off the jajik marinade. Roast the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until the outside is golden brown and charred in some spots.

* You can use chicken breast, but you will need to cook them a shorter amount of time (25 to 35 minutes), and the exteriors won't get quite as brown. Remove the chicken breasts as soon as their internal temperature reaches 165° F. Buy about 1 pound of chicken breast.

za'atar potatoes

  • 1 pound russet potatoes

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons za'atar, to taste (or a combination of dried thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac) *

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

  1. While the chicken is marinating, slice the potatoes into large wedges.

  2. Coat the potatoes in the olive oil, place them in a skillet or sheet pan, and sprinkle them with za'atar and salt.

  3. Roast the potatoes at the same time as the chicken, taking them out after about 30 minutes, once they're golden brown, blistered, and cooked all the way through (about 5 to 10 minutes before the chicken is done). Cooking may take longer, depending on how thick you slice them.

* If you don't have za'atar on hand, feel free to just use 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. It's not the same, but also delicious!

Jajik Chicken with Za'atar Potatoes

baked kufteh

Kifteh Bake

Last week, I had the pleasure of baking for chef Mina Park's Cook for Syria dinner, organized by Dervla Louli, and hosted by Joseph Louli with House of Madison. My mom was born in Baghdad, where her father's family is from, but her mother's family is from north eastern Syria, and my grandmother spent the later part of her childhood on their family's farm near al-Hasakah, so it warmed my heart to be able to help raise money for this cause.

But why participate in Cook for Syria in particular? There are many ways to aid victims of the war, but I personally love Cook for Syria because it simultaneously raises money for children affected by the Syrian civil war, while also asking participants to experience a piece of Syrian culture. Perhaps eating a Syrian meal will make everyone more likely to contemplate the humanity of those who need their help, instead of resigning to apathy.

event photos by  Anthony J . Damico

event photos by Anthony J . Damico

baba ganoush

It was so wonderful of Mina to cook my recipe for baked tomato kufteh with zucchini, and so I thought I'd also share it with you here. If you love to cook and want to support the children of Syria, you should consider hosting your own Cook for Syria supper club for your friends and family—and please, please, don't psych yourself out of it! It could be a huge, elaborate event if that's your thing, but it could also be a small four-person night in. They have lots of great recipes on their website, or feel free to use one of mine from the recipe archives.

Not all of my recipes are Syrian, per se, since Assyrian and Syrian aren't the same thing. But there's some overlap, since many Assyrians live in or immigrated from Syria, plus there is a lot of overlap between our cuisines to begin with. But if you're unsure, I've included a roundup below, featuring recipes that have some connection to my family's time in Syria, as well as some of my favorites from around the web.

Kifteh Bake
Kifteh Bake

Cook for Syria resources and recipes

complete meal plans and resources

easy vegetarian meze with schedule, grocery list, and recipes
tips for hosting a Cook for Syria dinner
easy meze platter from the BBC
a meze platter from Saveur

dinner

muhammara
double-roast baba ganoush
zucchini dolma
booshala
Jerusalem salad
vegan stuffed grape leaves
labneh
hummus
fattoush
tabbouleh
lentils and pasta (Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
freekeh salad (Saima Khan)
kufteh (recipe below)

bread

pita
lawash
manoush za'atar

dessert

kadeh
samawar chai
date ma'amoul
fruit salad with ice cream (Imad's Syrian Kitchen)
knafeh (Sandra Greiss and Amrita Langbour)

Kifteh Bake

baked kufteh

yield: 4 servings (16 meatballs)
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 47 minutes
more kifteh: 
kift'it gu shirwah and kift'it tkhuma

1 pound ground chuck
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
10 grinds black pepper
1/4 cup minced green onion, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup medium grain rice, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup water
1 small 8-ounce zucchini

  • Use your hands to mix together the ground beef, salt, black pepper, green onion, parsley, and rinsed rice, until everything is well-combined.

  • Shape the meat mixture into about 16 meatballs.

  • Spread the olive oil evenly over the bottom of an oven-proof 10-inch skillet (preferably nonstick or very well-seasoned cast iron, but stainless steel will also work).

  • Arrange the meatballs in 1 even layer in the skillet. Pour the diced tomatoes and water over the meatballs, cover, and place on the stove over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer covered for 12 minutes. While the meatballs are simmering, preheat the oven to 450° F.

  • Once the meatballs have simmered, remove from heat and flip each one over. Add the zucchini to the pan, nesting it anywhere there is space between the meatballs. Bake uncovered in the 450° F oven for 10 minutes, flip the meatballs over once more, and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes.

Kifteh Bake