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Maklouba

It's usually served to guests upside down on a serving platter, and if you are confident enough, you can flip it over at the table and give your guests a show!

I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t like maklouba. Do you know why? Because you can personalise it to suit any taste. Maklouba is a Palestinian dish whose name comes from the Arabic word meaning “inverted” and if you’ve ever seen maklouba being served, you’d know why. Maklouba is usually served to guests upside down on a serving platter, and if you are confident enough, you can flip it over at the table and give your guests a show!

Some say Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi named the dish when he captured Jerusalem and the Jerusalemites served it to him. He loved the dish so much that he wanted to ask about it, and referred to it as the inverted dish.

Nowadays, many Arab countries, especially in the Levant, make variations of maklouba, which many believe is the influence of Palestinian refugees, who took the dish with them to these countries.

The key to getting the dish right is to season each and every layer because this dish has the potential to be bland. Taste the stock after everything is put in the pot and once the seasoning and spices are to your liking, add a little bit more. The rice and vegetables soak up a lot of the flavour, so make sure you have enough to go around.

If you want your maklouba to remain intact once you remove the pot, the secret is to flip it over and let it cool for about 20 minutes while it stands upside down. Don’t worry about the food getting cold; the pot will trap the heat. My family and I personally rarely have the patience to wait for the maklouba to cool, so we flip it over and dig right in!

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken (8 pieces)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves
  • 3-4 pieces mastic

Vegetables

  • Oil to fry the vegetables
  • 1 large head of cauliflower (separated into florets)
  • 2 large potatoes (peeled and cut into thick slices)
  • 1 small or half a large butternut squash (peeled and cut into thick half moons)
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Rice

  • 3 cups Basmati rice (rinsed and soaked for 30 mins)
  • 2 tbsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3-4 tbsp of oil used to fry the vegetables
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5-6 cups stock (add water if you don’t have enough stock)

Instructions

  1. To make the chicken, heat the olive oil in a large pot (the one you are using to cook the dish in) and once hot, place the chicken pieces skin side down. Brown the chicken and then add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to the boil, skim off the fat and cover. Let boil until the chicken is cooked. Strain the chicken and reserve the stock for the rice. Place the chicken aside.
  2. While the chicken is cooking, fry the vegetables in your choice of oil. I like to use sunflower oil. Make sure you do it in batches so that the vegetables get evenly browned. Don’t worry about them cooking all the way through, they’ll cook with the rice. Set the fried vegetables on kitchen towels and put aside. Reserve the frying oil for the rice.
  3. To assemble, start by adding about 2 tbsp of the frying oil to the bottom of the pot, followed by the chicken, skin side down. Sprinkle with some mixed spices, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Then add the vegetables. When I have guests and don’t know what each person likes, I put each vegetable on one side of the pot, so that when it is served, people can be served the vegetables they like and don’t need to sift through the rice to find what they want. If it is just my family, I just layer the vegetables on top of each other. Make sure to season each layer with spices, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
  4. Next, season the rice with salt, pepper, mixed spices and cinnamon, and add some of the oil used to fry the vegetables. This will give the rice a great flavour. Distribute it evenly over the vegetables. Season the stock with the same spices and ladle it onto the rice. Pouring it in all at once will make everything shift.
  5. Turn the hob on high, and once the stock comes to the boil, cover the pot with aluminium foil, followed by the lid. This ensures the steam stays in the pot.
  6. When the rice is cooked and the stock has been absorbed, it is ready. Invert the pot onto your serving dish (this may require some help, as the pot will be heavy), and serve with a finely chopped salad or yogurt. Enjoy!
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