Maqluba or Upside-Down

by Hadeel Assali

 Photo: minahalal.com

Photo: minahalal.com

“Maqluba” is a rice dish that means “upside down” in Arabic. Some might say it is the quintessential Palestinian dish, and many debate - quote passionately sometimes - which are the ingredients to use (i.e. eggplants vs. cauliflower*). The rice is layered in a large pot with vegetables, meat and flavorful spices, and the prevention is almost as important as the last. The chef achieves star status if, upon flipping it upside-down, the rice retains the shape of the pot once the pot is removed. This is usually a performed in front of the crowd of diners and met with cheers and applause (even if it doesn’t hold the shape of the pot, because everyone is just excited to eat maqluba!).

Here is my mother’s recipe from Laziza Farms.

Ingredients:
For preparing chicken and broth:
Whole chicken cut up into 8 pieces
oil for frying/sauteeing
1 stick cinnamon
4-6 pods whole cardamom
3-4 whole black peppercorns
1/2 onion (un-chopped)
salt

For the rice:
2 cups of medium grain rice
2 large eggplants peeled and sliced into 1/2 - 3/4 inch slices
2 onions peeled and sliced
3 medium potatoes peeled and sliced into ½ inch slices
3-4 tomatoes sliced in half
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½- 1 teaspoon turmeric
oil for frying
Salt to taste
slivered almonds or pine-nuts (optional)

Method:
1. Sauté the washed and cleaned chicken in some oil then cover it with water. When it starts boiling skim the foam that comes up. Add the half-onion, stick of cinnamon, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt. Once the chicken is done remove it to a separate container and strain the broth.
2. Fry the sliced onions to a light golden brown and drain on a paper towel.
3. Fry the potatoes to a golden brown and drain from oil.
4. Arrange the eggplant slices in a pan and brush with oil. Broil in the oven until golden-brown.  Turn the slices over, brush with oil and broil until golden-brown. 
5. Spray the skin side of the tomato halves and broil
6. In a heavy bottom 6 qt pot sprinkle a handful of the rice in the bottom of the pot. Arrange the cooked chicken and the fried and broiled vegetables in alternating orders.
7. Spread the rest of the rice on top of the vegetables and cover with a plate to weigh down the rice and prevent things from shifting while adding the liquid.
8. In a separate pot, add 4 cups of the reserved broth and the remaining spices and salt. Bring to boil. Pour the hot and seasoned broth over the rice.
9.  When the broth begins boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot tightly. Cook until all the rice is done.
10. Let the Maqluba cool for at least half an hour. Remover the cover of the pot and replace it with a flat round tray or plate that is bigger than the pot. 
11. Make sure you have an audience. Quickly and carefully flip the pot and pan. You might have to bang the sides and the top of the pot to loosen the rice. Remove the pot. You can decorate with toasted nuts.

Some recipes use fried florets of cauliflower and carrots instead of eggplants and tomatoes. Some meat (preferably lamb) instead of chicken. 

*In the short film by Nicolas Damuni titled “Maqloubeh” http://euromedaudiovisuel.net/p.aspx?t=videos&mid=103&l=en&did=1343 , the debate of eggplants vs. cauliflower in Maqluba is the humorous backdrop to the grim realities of daily life in Palestine.