Attempting My Mother's Recipe

We have an event coming up for which I committed to make Maqluba. It has been awhile since I've made it, so after posting my mother's recipe, I figured I would do a trial run and tweak as necessary. Many who cook regularly have a different ideas of how to explain their "measurements." For example, I am often told when cooking rice, cover the rice with water until it reaches the first crease of your finger. I try these things, but mostly feel confident with exact measurements (or a rice cooker). I insisted my mother give measurements for her recipe, but even I made my own tweaks, thus forging my own signature on the dish.

I began with a whole (organic) chicken, which I cut into parts, and made a gorgeous chicken brother using only the breasts, back meat and innards and the spices from my mother's specified. The result sparkled with flavor. 

 Freshly made chicken broth  

Freshly made chicken broth  

But I had already begun my revisions of her recipe by omitting the rest of the chicken in the broth. I don't really like boiled chicken, so I saved the more savory sections (thighs, legs, wings) for baking and serving alongside the final dish. I marinated them while I did the rest of the prep work.  

With careful planning, I roasted and fried the veggies simultaneously. Broil the tomatoes, fry the onions, flip the tomatoes, fry the potatoes, roast the eggplant, drain the oil... Quite the balancing act in a tiny New York kitchen!

 Roasted tomatoes with olive oil and salt

Roasted tomatoes with olive oil and salt

 Fried potatoes and onions 

Fried potatoes and onions 

Now let's talk about the rice. My mother's recipe calls for medium grain rice which is quite difficult to find in most grocery stores. I'm not sure why that is. The goal of this dish is for the rice to hold together, ideally in the shape of the pot. And the more I think about it, the more I realize many of our rice dishes are in fact sticky. We stuff many things: grape leaves, squashes, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots (in Gazan Palestine), onions (in Iraq) - so of course the rice needs to stay together. Even "mansaf" or "fatah" - a very traditional rice dish - I often remember being sticky enough for those who gather around to gather morsels in three fingers. My mother says for Maqluba one could use risotto, which makes sense. Egyptian rice, which I assume was a major source for neighboring Palestine, is also a short grain rice.

I managed to find medium grain rice in my East Harlem grocer, and so I followed the recipe measurements she recommended - sort of. I put the handful of rice in the pot the layered the veggies and boiled chicken as specified. 

 Layered vegetables and chicken  

Layered vegetables and chicken  

Then I warmed and seasoned the broth as specified. 

 Seasoned broth

Seasoned broth

I put two cups of rice over the layered veggies, put a small plate on top to weigh everything down, and poured the broth over it. But I got worried about the rice being undercooked (a big fear of mine), so I added more broth - at least a half-cup more than the recipe specified.

I think this explains why the dish did not hold its shape when flipped out of the pot: 

 TA-DA! A tasty failure 

TA-DA! A tasty failure 

Oh well, it was still delicious. Will try to get it right next time!

I served it with plain greek yogurt, hot sauce and the baked chicken.