Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Maqluba, Palestinian national dish - upside down chicken and rice bake

If my Hebrew is a bit, well, rudimentary to say the least, my Arabic is practically non-existent. Though, that never seemed to matter either - as I was working in West Bank the locals would politely listen to my clumsy attempts at communicating with them only to ask how old I was and if I were already married.

The most meaningful dialogue of the entire time I lived in Tunisia I had with a taxi driver on my way home from work. A car that had been driven off the road and rolled over had enticed probably every single taxi driver in the capital to speculate what had happened. Sayaara, the taxi driver said, pointing at the car. Sayaara maqluba. Now, there was a word even I understood and so we kept nodding vigorously in agreement. Sayaara maqluba - upside down car.

That's exactly what maqluba means: upside down, though it is also the name of one of their most beloved dishes that has been adopted in other countries in the region as well. It gets its name from the way it's flipped over onto the serving platter after cooking.

As all the traditional dishes in the world, each family has their own recipe for this. As I was trying to enquire this from the Palestinian family that adopted me in Hebron, the following conversation ensued:

- So, what goes into it?
- Rice, chicken, onion, peppers and eggplant.
- Yes, yes, but how much?
- Exactly as much as you like! was the puzzled answer.

So, feel free to follow that advice... or the slightly more exact instructions based on the one another one of my Palestinian mamas makes. There are countless variations: for veggies you can use just about anything and chicken can be substituted with lamb or skipped altogether. 

Serves 4-6

Maqluba - Palestinian chicken and rice bake:

3 dl rice

oil for frying

1 tsp bokharat spice blend
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tl ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 iso sipuli, ohuelti siivutettuna
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
6 chicken thighs
8 dl chicken stock

salt, pepper

To serve: 3/4 dl toasted pine nuts

Soak rice for half an hour and rise. In the meanwhile prep the rest of the ingredients: peel and slice the onion and chop the cauliflower. Pat the chicken dry.

Heat a couple of tbsp oil in a casserole dish. Sauté cauliflower until it's softened and got a bit of colour on it. Season with salt and pepper and transfer out of the pan.

Add more oil and do the same with onion. Transfer aside.

Add some more oil and this time add the spices. Toss them around for a a while and then add the chicken. Brown on both sides. Season. Add stock and continue to cook, covered,  over medium heat until chicken is done - 30-40 minutes. 

Drain the chicken (reserve the liquid). Place the onions onto the bottom of the dish, followed by chicken and then  cauliflower. Top with layer of rice and slowly pour the chicken stock evenly over that. Cover and continue cooking over gentle heat until all the liquid's been absorbed and the rice is done (another 3--40 minutes). Every now and then check to make sure there's still enough liquid and add more if needed. 

When maqluba is done, transfer it from the stove and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Then flip it carefully onto the serving platter and serve with Turkish yoghurt.





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