Years ago, when the boys were little, I chatted with a beduin mom in the playground in Yerucham, the small town in the dessert of Israel where I grew up.
Since I love to talk about food, I asked her if she cooks. She said she did, everyday. So I asked her what is their typical dish, that one dish she cooks all the time and everyone in her family loves. She said chicken maqluba. I don’t leave playgrounds without recipes, she was happy to share the recipe and I was happy to know what I was going to make for dinner.
It was so simple and delicious that I started to make it often and make my own versions; I cooked the rice with different veggies and sometimes with dried fruits like she suggested and put veggies in the bottom of the pan instead of chicken. What I loved about it then and now is that everything is cooked in one pot and the flipping and revealing elements, which create anticipation and excitement, even if it collapses a minute later. The word maqluba in Arabic means upside-down.
I read a little bit about the dish and discovered that it goes back centuries and is found in the Kitab al-Tabikh, a collection of 13th century recipes, which I immediately googled and found a translated version of the collection, A Bagdad Cookery Book. Looking forward to see what else this food Quran has to offer.
Maqluba (upside-down rice)
- 1 small sweet potato or potato
- 2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
- 5 large shallots or 1 large onion - any onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon baharat
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Handful scallion - parsley, dill or a little bit of each
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
- Boil the sweet potato for 5 minutes until it’s just a bit tender and set on the side.
- Wash the rice carefully until the water is clear (or soak in cold water for 20 minutes), let the rice sit in the colander to dry.
- Chop the shallots or onion. Put the olive oil in a non stick sauce-pan and add the onions and spices. Saute in medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Remove from the pan and put in a medium bowl with the rice and scallion. Add salt and mix.
- Peel the sweet potato and slice it into about ¼ inch / ½ cm slices. Drizzle a little olive oil into the pan and place the slices on the bottom of it.
- Pour the rice over and put over high heat. Add water or stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, close the pan (I wrap the lid with a clean kitchen towel to seal it completely) and cook for 12 minutes (if you soaked the rice for 20 minutes or more, cook it for 10 minutes)
- When the rice is ready, let it cool for 5 -10 minutes then remove the lid. Place a large plate over the pan and quickly flip it. Tap the pan a few times then gently and slowly lift it up.
- Serve with tahini as a side dish.
Add dried fruits such as raisins, prunes, apricot into the rice and serve with chopped nuts such as almonds and pistachio like the Arabs do.