Sumac Chicken With Yogurty Cucumber Salad

April 27, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

A winner, winner chicken dinner, all thanks to one ingredient: tangy, creamy Greek yogurt. Part of it gets used as a marinade—thanks to its fat and acidity, yogurt ensures that chicken breasts stay tender and don’t dry out in the pan. Note: Whole-milk yogurt is best here, but two-percent will do in a pinch. If all you have is nonfat, stir in a little olive oil or cream for richness (fat equals flavor). And while unstrained yogurt would be too thin, you can strain it yourself if you have the right tools.

The rest of that yogurt goes toward a smashed cucumber salad with wisps of red onion. Don’t skip the salting step for the vegetables—it draws out their juices, a salad dressing in their own right, and concentrates all the flavors.

If you don’t have sumac, other spices can be swapped in. Of course, they won’t be the same—substitutions never are—but you’ll still end up with something delicious. Try black pepper, cumin, caraway, garam masala, really whatever you love in your spice cabinet. Just stick to one ingredient and adjust the amount to taste (start with a big pinch for peppers, 1 teaspoon for the less spicy spices).

With respect to planning ahead: You can marinate the chicken for up to 12 hours in the fridge. (Any longer and it will get mealy.) Or, after you combine it with the yogurt, you can stick it in the freezer, keep it there for weeks, then thaw in the fridge whenever you’re ready to cook. (Thanks to Nik Sharma for this great tip!)

This is one of our Big Little Recipes, our weekly column all about dishes with big flavor and little ingredient lists.Emma Laperruque

  • Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2
  • Sumac chicken and sautéed onions
  • 1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1/2 pound each), halved horizontally
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 red onion, roughly chopped
  • Yogurty cucumber-onion salad
  • 4 Persian cucumbers
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 pinch ground sumac
In This Recipe
  1. Combine the yogurt, salt, and sumac in a medium bowl or container. Add the chicken and make sure each piece is totally coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12.
  2. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, make the cucumber salad. Place the cucumbers on a cutting board and smack each one with the side of a chef’s knife or rolling pin until it splits like someone sat on them. Now roughly chop. Add to a bowl with the onion and salt, and toss to combine.
  3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, then the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are mostly translucent and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
  4. While the onions are cooking, remove the chicken from its marinade and scrape away any yogurt clinging to the meat (this can cause the chicken to burn or stick in the pan). Discard the marinade.
  5. When the onions are done, transfer them to a plate, then, immediately add the remaining tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Now add the chicken (it should sizzle). Cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side until the chicken is browned all over and cooked through (about 165°F internal temp). If the chicken feels stuck when you go to flip it, give it a little more time to form a crust; a spatula versus tongs also helps.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, spread the ¾ cup of yogurt around on a serving plate—this is where you’ll build the cucumber salad.
  7. By now, the cucumber salad should have accumulated a lot of cucumbery juices. Good! Add the olive oil and stir. Taste and adjust the salt if needed. Pour the cucumber-onion salad on top of the swirled yogurt. Sprinkle some sumac on top.
  8. Plate the cooked chicken on top of the onions, and serve both dishes together.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.