Maqluba (meaning upside down in English) is a delicious traditional Palestinian dish, consisting of a variety of vegetables, rice, meat, stock and spices layered and simmered together in a large lidded pot. The pot is then inverted and (carefully!) removed at the end to reveal a large layered rice cake. Lamb and aubergine or chicken and carrot plus either with cauliflower are typical combinations or it can be made with simply a mixture of vegetables.
As the Maqluba was originally cooked on fire, where it was impossible to control the temperature, the bottom of the pot would often burn. To avoid this, a ‘sacrificial’ layer of tomatoes or potatoes was added to the bottom of the pot! Even though it is no longer necessary, the tradition lives on!
For a vegetarian version make a pan of good vegetable stock (2 litres approx – water, lemon, star anise, pepper, cinamom, cardamom, garlic, onion, carrot, potato, ginger, turmeric, all spice berries, whatever stems and stalks you have available to use) and would recommend a larger assortment of vegetables; 8 eggplants and a large cauliflower broken into florets (not small they will disintegrate) and roasted in the oven with salt and olive oil for 20 minutes on 200 C. 4/5 carrots chopped into thick discs would also be a good addition, added raw into the layers or some sweet potato thinly sliced. Add all the ingredients that were to go on to the lamb into your stock.
Ingredients – serves 5/6
1.5 kilos of meat (a leg of lamb shoulder chopped into large chunks)
3 mugs of rice
1 onion – roughly chopped
2 large waxy potatoes
2 bay leaves
2 heaped tsp all spice berries ground
08 cardamom pods
2 cloves of garlic sliced
1 inch piece of ginger sliced
1 cinamon stick
4/5 tbsp of asfur (arabic saffron) or 2 tbsp turmeric if you do not have it
100g pine nuts
400 ml of vegetable / sunflower oil
350 ml Olive oil
500 ml of yoghurt to serve
Handful of Parsley roughly chopped
You will need a large, round serving platter and a large pot with a tight lid.
Firstly rub the spices on to the lamb (all spice berries, 1 pepper and the asfur and salt). Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot and add the sliced garlic. When it starts to colour add an onion, the ginger and the roughly chopped onion and let it sweat for 5 minutes. Then add the pieces of lamb with the spices, followed by the cardamom (give them a quick bash in the pestle and mortar to release the flavour) the bay leaves and the cinnamon stick.
Once the lamb has browned add enough water to almost cover the meat and bring it to the boil. Add 3 tsp of salt and turn it down to simmer for 2 hours or until the meat is tender. Make sure there is enough water in the pot and top up if necessary, as that will be the stock for the rice.
Put your rice in a bowl of cold water to soak. Drain and rinse when ready to use.
To prepare the aubergines peel on or off as per your preferences and then slice them into thick discs ( 1 inch thick approximately). Put them in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave for half an hour to release the water. Pat dry with paper towel.
Lay out some trays or boards with kitchen towel or newspaper on them ready to soak up the ensuing oil.
Heat at least a thumbs thickness of vegetable oil in a large frying pan. once it is hot start to add the slices of aubergine and fry them all until they are golden brown and lay on kitchen paper (both above and under) to absorb the grease. I used about 400 ml of oil for this. They really need to be golden and well cooked all the way through. Place the aubergines on the towels or newspaper with another towel on top of them and a book or tray weight to release the oil from them.
Thinly slice the potatoes or sweet potatoes and roast the cauliflower (please see paragraph on vegetarian version).
When the meat is tender carefully strain the stock through a sieve and set aside. Discard the bits from the stock. Add water to make it up to 1 litre. Also set the meat aside.
Now to assemble; slice 4 of the tomatoes in to thick slices, season with salt and olive oil and lay at the bottom of the large pot.
Now add some of the aubergine in a layer underneath. My Dad suggested that you could actually place the aubergine around the sides of the pot so that it was ‘wrapped’ around the rice, which would actually look very nice. Next add a layer of meat or cauliflower if using and then the rice. Keep layering rice / vegetables / meat and salt.
Press it all down to compact it with the back of a wooden spoon. Finally add the stock. You should be able to see it over the top of the rice (approx 1 cm above it) if not then add some water carefully. Too much water and your Maqluba won’t set.
Next put the lid on the pot and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes. I checked it half way through and fluffed the rice with a fork gently. Then put the lid back on and continue to cook. After the 45 minutes take the lid of and check the rice. There shouldn’t be any excess liquid left and if there is cook it for 5 more minutes and then check again.
Whilst you are doing that, put a thumbs height of olive oil in a small pan and fry the pine nuts. Watch as they catch quickly. Remove from the oil once golden and drain on paper towels.
Now place a large platter over the pot, face down. You then need to turn the pot with the platter at the bottom of it and flip it over in preferably one movement. Give the bottom of the pot a bang (for luck) and let it rest for 5 minutes or so. Then carefully lift off the lid.
Scatter with some chopped parsley and the pine nuts on to and serve with the yogurt and a simple arabic salad.