Chicken Marinade with Sumac, Za’atar, and Lemon

It’s a fact of my life that one of my favourite childhood foods was chicken hearts.

You didn’t read that wrong. We ate them all the time – they were cheap meat, and we’d have them boiled in broth with chunks of onion. I loved them. I remember happily eating them from one of those plastic sectioned plates for toddlers.

It’s a great line for parties: as a child, I feasted on the hearts of chickens.

I was horrified to learn years later that, unlike hot dogs and beaver tails, this food had been named literally. But I’ve set aside my qualms. I’m going to become a barbequer extraordinaire this summer, but as I don’t trust myself yet, I want to start low-stake with cheap meat. Cue: my return to this childhood favourite.

Chicken Marinade with Sumac, Za'atar, and Lemon | One Wooden Spoon

Twice in the last year, Dave and I have encountered skewered marinated chicken hearts as an app in trendy Toronto restaurants. They were (as my child-self confirmed long ago) delicious, but also way marked up. Last week, instead of paying $4 for six, I spent $2.75 on two pounds, marinated them for 24 hours, and barbequed them on a skewer with wedges of red onion.

This isn’t a recipe about barbequeing chicken hearts per se because they actually came out kind of tough; let’s blame that on my novice barbequing skills. (Jamila and I yelled down to Dave’s sister in the back yard: “How do you know when the meat is cooked?!” It’s a work in progress.)

Instead, this is a recipe about the marinade, which is one of my new favourite things. Think cozy, layered tang-iness: soothing from the cinnamon and allspice, sharpened by the lemon and garlic, and nuanced by the earthy sumac and za’atar. Oh I am going to be making this again and again.

Chicken Marinade with Sumac, Za'atar, and Lemon | One Wooden Spoon

And the leftover over-tough chicken hearts? They were pretty perfect in last Friday’s throw-together soup.

Notes: Where do you even get sumac & za’atar? Not at my neighbourhood Sobey’s, that’s for sure; not even at my neighbourhood FreshCo. These spices are going to send you to a specialty spice store, middle eastern grocery store, or massive local markets. But: so worth it. I’d make a cross-city trek just to smell this marinade again.

Chicken Marinade with Sumac, Za'atar, and Lemon | One Wooden Spoon
Tough-Heart Salvage: Chicken Heart Soup with Lentils and Spinach

Chicken Marinade with Sumac, Za’atar, and Lemon

adapted from from Ottolenghi


2 lb chicken pieces
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp sumac
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp za’atar (optional)


1. In a large bowl or baking dish, mix all ingredients but the za’atar. Cover in plastic wrap and set in the fridge overnight (or a few hours).

2. When you’re ready to roast or barbeque the chicken, sprinkle it with za’atar before cooking.

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