Eid Sa’eed, everyone! Today marks the end of the month-long fasting during Ramadan, and in true Arab style, what’s a celebration without amazing food? Today I bring to you a family favorite and regional specialty: Maqloubeh.
Maqloubeh means “upside down” in Arabic; true to it’s name, this dish is inverted once cooked then left to rest a few moments to take shape of the pan. It’s a magic moment, a moment of truth, if you will… I remember peeking around my mom’s side as she flipped it over and lifted the pan, garnishing it all with golden brown pine nuts and almonds. I reveled in that moment of suspense, despite knowing that hers would turn out just right, as it always had.
Maqloubeh is a humble, distinctly Palestinian dish of layered meat, rice and vegetables all spiced with the signature baharat, which includes cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. My favorite combination is chicken and eggplant, but it’s also common to use carrots, cauliflower or lamb. it can very easily be made vegetarian by substituting the meat for an additional round of veggies (ie eggplant and carrot). I suspect that historically, many families omitted the meat at times when it was not readily or affordably available.
In this adaptation I used cauliflower because we had a fresh one on hand. Using cauliflower – over eggplant, let’s say – alters the presentation slightly. The cauliflower creates a dotted presentation, whereas eggplant (since it’s smooth and can be placed in a sheet-like layer above the chicken) results a more perfectly layered, almost terrine-like, presentation once the pot is inverted. So, if you’re cooking for guests and going for presentation, eggplant is a great choice.
Eid Sa’eed to all who celebrate, and bon appetit to those who don’t but love the food anyway. Round out your Eid table with this maqloubeh and other traditional Middle Eastern recipes from this month’s Ramadan feature:
Many more Arabic favorites under the “Middle Eastern” tag as well, and many more to come.
500g / 1lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 fresh cauliflower, cut in medium-sized florets (or, 1 large eggplant, sliced thinly legthwise)
2 cups rice (basmati or long grain white are best), rinsed
Generous sprinkling of spices: garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves (or the first three + pre-mixed Arabic baharat)
2 1/2 or 2 3/4 cups chicken stock or water. Either way, season with a pinch more of above spices.
Pine nuts and slivered almonds, toasted or browned in olive oil
Canola oil, for sauteeing
Optional: pinch of saffron or turmeric, for color
Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Season generously with garlic, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves on both sides. Heat enough canola oil to slick the bottom of a large pot, and place the chicken in the pot to brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and set aside.
If using cauliflower: add the cauliflower to the same pot and allow to brown and absorb the flavors from the seasoned chicken, cooking about halfway through. If using eggplant: rub each side of the thin eggplant slices with olive oil and broil in the oven until golden and just tender. Set aside.
Place the chicken back into the pot, spreading it out to create an even layer. Create a second layer out of the cauliflower or eggplant to cover the chicken. Evenly spread the rice over the vegetable layer and top with the chicken stock and pinch of saffron or turmeric. Taste for seasoning and add a drop more canola oil.
Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the water is absorbed and the rice is done, about 20-25 minutes.Remove from the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. Invert the pan onto a serving dish, then let sit another 10 minutes to hold its shape. Gently remove the pan and garnish with the browned pine nuts and almonds.