Sumac Chicken With Yogurty Cucumber Salad

April 27, 2020
16 Ratings
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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jaxmccaff
  • Pamela Morrison
    Pamela Morrison
  • Kim Fifer
    Kim Fifer
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
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., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

    26 Reviews

    Jaxmccaff October 19, 2020
    Made this last night and the chicken was delicious. Very flavourful and super moist. The cucumber salad was good too but lacked something ... not sure what but was a little lacklustre. I would definitely make the chicken again though!
    May February 18, 2021
    You can add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of garlic salt. I find this elevated the mix for me
    LizzyB September 23, 2020
    Perfectly delicious!
    Directions aren’t entirely clear; you should halve the breasts horizontally all the way through, so you end up with four pieces of breast meat.
    Pamela M. September 7, 2020
    This was just delicious. By far the most flavorful boneless/skinless chicken breasts I've ever made. Sumac is a wonderful new find. Thanks for a great recipe!
    Brian I. July 26, 2020
    Very tasty! My chicken-averse wife liked it too, and my 17 year old daughter even said she'd eat it again! Thanks for a big win-win!
    Elena C. July 18, 2020
    This has become a weekly ‘go-to’ for my family. On a weeknight it’s so easy to plan for and the flavors are delicious. Love the red onions and cucumbers alongside the chicken. TY for sharing.
    Author Comment
    Emma L. July 19, 2020
    Thanks so much, Elena!
    J July 15, 2020
    This is so delicious, honestly, I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day. I added a teaspoon of sage to the yogurt in both the marinade and the sauce. The sumac definitely is worth searching for. World Market carries it if you have one close by.
    Kim F. July 5, 2020
    This Sumac Chicken with Yogurty Cucumber Salad was fantasticI I am so pleased! All of the flavors are fresh and delicious! It has become one of my all time favorites! Many thanks for the offering!
    Margaret G. June 1, 2020
    This was terrific! The chicken and onions in particular, but the whole dish really just sung! Thanks!
    Patti June 1, 2020

    This was delicious. It reminded me of a Tandoori dish which was baked. I was wondering if this could be baked with all the marinade ? Since I didn't have extra yogurt or cucumbers I couldn't bear the thought of losing the sauce so I left a small amount of the yogurt marinade on the chicken and it did get a little dark, but, After taking the chicken out I added about a tablespoon of water and scraped up the bits and poured it over the chicken that I sliced. Very tasty.
    Lois May 24, 2020
    Delicious and easy. There was plenty of marinade to accommodate the 3 breasts I had (split into 6 cutlets). I didn't have sumac in the house so I added some lemon zest and pepper as a substitute, then remembered I had some za'atar and added that as well. Whatever, it was delicious served over the red onions.
    MsMM2You May 21, 2020
    This recipe produced a simply wonderful chicken entree that disappeared as soon as it was served. Deceptively short list of ingredients (and easy prep) produced chicken that was moist and perfectly seasoned. I confess to using boneless, well-trimmed chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts because of personal preference. Sumac is definitely worth searching out- with such a short list of ingredients, its importance should not be underestimated. Plus, a little sumac sprinkled on rice becomes a terrific side dish in its own. If there were any leftovers, would definitely use another reviewer’s great suggestion and make chicken wraps. This recipe was too good. Really good!
    Author Comment
    Emma L. May 21, 2020
    So happy to hear this, thanks!
    lolsure May 11, 2020
    We made this with breast tenderloin pieces (what was in the freezer) and it was delicious -- super moist! We served with tomatoes as well as the cucumber salad. I'll definitely be freezing some in marinade to have at the ready in the future. Thanks for the recipe!
    Author Comment
    Emma L. May 21, 2020
    Yum, tomatoes! So glad you enjoyed.
    Margaret May 3, 2020
    Are you butterflying the chicken breasts, or slicing each one in half so you now have 4 pieces of chicken? In the photo, the chicken breast looks plumper than one that would have been split.
    Author Comment
    Emma L. May 4, 2020
    Hi Margaret! I like to halve the chicken breasts (so you'd have four pieces from two breasts). That said, if you prefer to leave them whole or slightly pound them, that works too—just extend the cook time as needed.
    mudd May 22, 2020
    Emma L (& Margaret) I have the same question. The response didn’t clear up my confusion either. Are the breasts cut through so you wind up with 4 thin cutlets or just in half h wise?
    Author Comment
    Emma L. May 22, 2020
    Hi Mudd! Yes, two breasts halved to yield four thin cutlets.
    Flattery April 30, 2020
    Made this last night and it is one of the tastiest meals we have ever had! We have leftovers so tonight we are going to thin slice the chicken and have the chicken and cucumber salad in a wrap.
    Author Comment
    Emma L. May 1, 2020
    Yay, so glad you enjoyed it!
    Willh5080 April 29, 2020
    Thanks for the so tasty recipe! I add it to my favourite! All of you must try it!)
    Author Comment
    Emma L. April 29, 2020
    Thanks, Willh5080—so happy to hear that!
    Christine I. April 29, 2020
    Thank you -that'll be tomorrow's dinner.
    When freezing a portion (before cooking, yes?), did you include sliced onion?
    Author Comment
    Emma L. April 30, 2020
    Hi Christine! You can freeze the chicken as soon as it's in the yogurt, salt, and sumac mixture. (The onion will get involved later once you start cooking.)