Maqlooba: a theatrical meal
Inspired by our new show Hakawatis: Women of the Arabian Nights, our 2022 Writer-in-Residence Hannah Khalil shares how to make this traditional recipe
Imust preface this maqlooba recipe with a warning: it may lead to arguments. You see, depending where you come there are different interpretations of the recipe – and I don’t just mean country to country, I’m talking region to region, town to town and village to village. Everyone does it a little differently… and thinks that their way is right.
So here I am offering a version that I can’t even say it is from Yasouf (the village where my family live in the West Bank in Palestine), I can only say it is the recipe my Sitti (grandmother) used to make.
I can however tell you something that is agreed upon: the name maqlooba means upside down in Arabic and that’s because you have to turn the pot upside down to serve it as you will see… But please make sure you check that all the liquid has cooked off before you do so or you may get into a tidal wave situation which has happened in my house before…
A good heavy based stove-top pot, with handles that are not too high is essential. You need to be able to rest a plate or platter flat on top for the turning out – and with some pots if the handles are too high the plate/platter won’t sit flush to the top of the pan, so choose carefully!
- 500g chopped lamb leg (optional)
- 500g basmati rice
- 1 tablespoon of baharat or Lebanese 7 spice (if you can’t find it you can make your own here )
- 1 onion diced
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 cauliflower chopped into florets (retain outer leaves)
- 1 aubergine sliced about 2 cm thick
- 2 courgettes sliced about 2 cm thick
- 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- Handful of chopped Parsley
- Cup of toasted pine nuts
Soak your rice in water while you fry the rest of the ingredients.
Fry all of the other ingredients in a little olive oil, one at a time, removing to a plate when finished. First fry the lamb (if using), with the spices, until brown. Then remove to a plate, and fry the onions and garlic; next the cauliflower until coloured; then the aubergine until golden (add the spices to the aubergine if you’re not using lamb), and finally the courgettes.
Now it’s all about layering. Put the cauliflower leaves on the bottom of the pan (this will stop the other ingredients burning and you’ll discard these at the end). Next, alternate layers of the fried vegetables and meat until they’re all used up, mixing a little onion and garlic along the way, and being sure to season as you go. You can do it in any order you like; I usually do cauliflower at the bottom followed by lamb, then aubergine and finally courgettes.
After this, drain the rice and place it on top. Make sure it’s all packed down tightly. Finally pour over the tin of tomatoes, and half fill the empty tin with water and add that.
Seal the pot tightly and cook on a medium heat until the rice is cooked – this should around 30-40 minutes.
Once the rice is cooked check there is no excess liquid (if there is, strain it gently, trying not to disturb your layers).
Now is time for a culinary act of bravery: place the plate or serving platter on top of the dish and flip it over carefully – and you must do this at the table in front of your guests. It’s an act of courage and theatre! Then, as you lift the pot up, you should have a sort of delicious savoury cake of rice, vegetables and meat.
Remove the browned cauliflower leaves, sprinkle over some chopped parsley and pine nuts, and serve with plain yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon and simple fattoush salad. Sahtein!
Together with Tamasha, we also present Azan Ahmed’s Deen & Dunya, a night of poetry, music and performance that elevates and celebrates Muslim voices in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 3 November 2022.