Exploring the Flavors of Arabia: A Mom’s Journey into Hearty and Healthy Arabic Cuisine
As a mom who loves to cook, I’ve always been drawn to the rich and diverse world of Arabic cuisine. It doesn’t hurt that I am married someone from the Middle East! There’s something truly magical about the way Arabic flavors come together to create dishes that are not only incredibly delicious but also hearty and healthy. One particular dish that has captured my heart and my kitchen is the famous Arabic “Makloubeh” or “Maqluba.
The Makloubeh Magic
Makloubeh, which translates to “upside-down” or “flipped over” in Arabic, is a dish that epitomizes the essence of Arabic cooking. It’s a one-pot wonder that brings together a harmonious medley of rice, vegetables, and meat (usually chicken or lamb). What makes Makloubeh truly special is the cooking technique that results in layers of flavors and textures that will leave your taste buds dancing.
The Rice Mastery
At the heart of Makloubeh is the art of cooking rice to perfection. Achieving that ideal balance of fluffy and aromatic rice is key to the dish’s success. It took me some practice to get it just right, but once you’ve mastered the technique, the possibilities are endless. I par cook the rice in boiling water that has been seasoned with spices and salt. That ensures that you don’t have undercooked rice! Honestly, nothing kills a dinner worse than that!
One of the things I adore about Makloubeh is its versatility. You can customize it to your heart’s content, experimenting with different vegetables, spices, and proteins. Whether you prefer the earthy notes of eggplant, the crunch of cauliflower, or the sweetness of tomatoes, Makloubeh can accommodate your preferences and what you have on hand. It is a great dish to use up lots of vegetables sitting in your fridge.
A Family-Friendly Feast
Makloubeh is a family-friendly dish through and through. Kids and adults alike are drawn to its inviting aroma and colorful presentation. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to introduce your little ones to a world of flavors from the Middle East. My kids are very used to eating this type of meal – but it’s really not that different than a chipotle burrito bowl in many ways. I encourage you to explore these spices and flavors in your home.
The Complete Meal
One of the reasons Makloubeh has become a staple in my household is its ability to stand alone as a complete meal. With a side of creamy yogurt, you have all the elements of a balanced and satisfying feast. The yogurt complements the rich flavors of the dish while providing a refreshing contrast.
The recipe is below – but there are a few things I want to make sure we walk through together.
First, here’s what you need:
When prepping your vegetables – it really makes a huge difference if you take the time to shred your own carrots and you cut up the cauliflower into small pieces. My preference is to have all of the vegetables cut in similar sizes so you can get a bite with a few different components. It also helps with the cooking speed
Next thing to keep in mind – when you’re cooking the vegetables you want them to be cooked about three quarters of the way through. If you do that, at the end the vegetables will have a chance to caramelize slightly – which really benefits the overall flavor.
Next big thing that makes a difference: flavor the water for the rice. Samin Nosrat, the author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” said on her show to make the water taste like the ocean. I don’t add quite that much, but it is important to season the water. I also learned from my mother-in-law to add spices to the water.
Ok last big thing to note on process — after you layer in the chicken, cilantro, and rice – you add in the water and cook, covered, for 15ish minutes. Remove the lid and if you see it is dry AND the rice is cooked through perfectly, that’s great. If you notice the rice is not complete, add in another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water and cover again. DO NOT STIR. Resist the urge to stir.
You’ll lift the lid and see the rice if fluffy and cooked through – wonderful. Now, turn the heat up slightly (from low to medium) and get those vegetables on the bottom a little more caramelized. Don’t burn them. I have before – and it’s a bit of a bummer.
If you want to make our own bread – a quick focaccia could be great
Labneh would be AMAZING with this.
Harissa on the side as a spicy addition would also be AMAZING.
Here’s a link to an easy marinated vegetable salad.
Exploring the Flavors of Arabia: A Mom’s Journey into Hearty and Healthy Arabic CuisineCourse: DinnerCuisine: ArabicDifficulty: Medium
2 Tablespoon avocado oil
2 cups basmati rice (rinsed)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1 bunch of cilantro
1 cup tomatoes
1.5 cup shredded carrot
1/2 head of cauliflower – about 2 cups once cut up
1 small serrano or jalapeno (omit if don’t want spice)
2 Tablespoons ginger garlic paste
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoons sumac
1 Tablespoon and 1 teaspoon salt, divided (plus more for seasoning the rice water)
- Prep the vegetables
- Slice the onion. Dice the tomatoes, cauliflower, hot pepper, and cilantro. Peel and shred the carrots. Keep the vegetables in separate piles and add to the dish at different times. SEE NOTE
- Prep the chicken
- Cut the chicken breasts into 1″ cubes
- In a bowl, add the chicken and 1/4 cup yogurt, 1 teaspoon salt, and mix. Set aside. SEE NOTE
- In a large pot – fill up the pot with water and add in the rice.
- Flavor the water – season with 2 teaspoons salt. SEE NOTES
- Cook this for about 15 minutes, until the rice is par cooked. SEE NOTES
- Drain and set-aside.
- In a large bottom dish (Dutch Oven), heat the oil over medium heat.
- On medium/high heat – add in the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add in the tomato and let the tomato cook down for 2 minutes.
- Add in the carrots and cauliflower and let this cook down for 5 minutes.
- Add in the salt, spices and ginger garlic and stir until fragrant and warmed through.
- Add in the chicken (with yogurt) to the vegetables and mix to combine.
- Sprinkle the cilantro over the chicken and vegetable mixture.
- Add the rice on top of the chicken and cilantro. SEE NOTE
- Add 1.5 cup of water and close the lid. Reduce heat to low – the lowest setting on your stove.
- Allow to cook for 15 minutes with lid on.
- Remove the lid and increase heat to medium – continue to cook until liquid has evaporated and the bottom has cooked more and you caramelize the vegetables more ~ 10-15 minutes. SEE NOTE
- Remove from heat and let sit for 10-ish minutes – then flip it over onto a tray and serve!
- Serve with a side of yogurt and some bread and serve it family style by flipping it onto a large platter with serving utensils for everyone to serve themselves. Delicious!
- Cooking the vegetables: You want the vegetables to be about 3/4 cooked before adding the chicken breasts – the vegetables will continue to cook through as the rice/chicken cook.
- Watch the bottom! Make sure you don’t burn the bottom – if your water is completely absorbed by the time you open the lid, add a little more.
- Rice: You can add spices to your water along with the salt – to flavor the rice. I like to add a bay leaf, cardamom pod, and cinnamon stick. It gently flavors the rice. Fish them out before adding to the chicken/veggies!
- Not a cilantro fan? Not a problem, replace with parsley or omit completely.
- Chicken marinade: You can do this step earlier and have the chicken in the fridge marinating overnight.
- Vegetables: consistency matters here in size. I prefer to have my cauliflower cut into small pieces and carrots shredded at home versus store bought – they are just more tender.