• Maqluba: the Middle Eastern rice dish that's served upside down. (Karima-Chloe Hazim)Source: Karima-Chloe Hazim
Maqluba is a layered rice dish that means 'upside down' in Arabic. Serving it is like an act of magic.
By
Melissa Woodley

17 Nov 2021 - 10:58 AM  UPDATED 18 Nov 2021 - 9:47 AM

If pineapple upside-down cake had a savoury sibling, it would be maqluba. This famous Middle Eastern rice dish consists of layered meat, rice and fried vegetables, cooked in a pot and flipped upside down to form an impressive tower.

“Maqluba is traditionally made with lamb, cauliflower, and eggplant,” says Karima-Chloe Hazim, from Sydney's Sunday Kitchen cooking classes.

“You cook the rice really slow to get a nice crispy base so that when you flip it, it stays in the shape of a beautiful dome,” the second-generation Lebanese home cook explains.

This delicate process gave maqluba its name, which translates to ‘upside down’ in Arabic.

“It's an incredibly simple dish in terms of ingredients, but it is like a magic trick when you flip it over with the aim being to keep it intact,” Hazim says.

Vegetables

The first step to making a successful tower is lining the pot with a layer of fried vegetables. Eggplant is the typical vegetable of choice, and Hazim recommends dabbing strips of eggplant in flour before frying them to achieve a golden crust.

“I would have about three or four centimetres of the eggplant strips on the base of the pot and then the rest of it going up all the way around,” she says.

These eggplant strips will prevent the maqluba from sticking to the pot and will help the cake hold together when you flip it.

Syrian chef and caterer, Racha Abou Alchamat, also recommends setting aside some small cubes of eggplant to stir through the rice. This adds texture to the dish and allows all the flavours to melt into each other.

Meat

Hazim traditionally uses lamb shanks, which she slow-cooks with bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. She then uses the discarded bones to make a flavoursome broth.

“The meat is so beautifully tender, and all of that beautiful flavour comes through in the broth,” she says.

“It's an incredibly simple dish in terms of ingredients, but it is like a magic trick when you flip it over with the aim being to keep it intact.”

Rice

This broth can then be used to cook the rice and will enhance the overall flavour of the dish. Both medium and long grain rice are used in various regions of the Middle East, but Hazim advises using medium grain to create a crisp outer crust.

“Medium grain rice sticks better, as it locks in a lot of moisture when it cooks and doesn't dry out,” she explains. “This creates a crust layer, which helps the maqluba stick together.”

To make the rice in the centre soft and fluffy, Abou Alchamat advises soaking one cup of medium grain rice in one cup of hot liquid for at least half an hour before cooking – a ratio of 50 per cent water to 50 per cent stock is ideal.

Assembling

A top tip for first-timers attempting maqluba is to cook each component separately and then assemble it in a deep tray that has been lined with cling wrap.

“Start with the meat on the bottom, followed by the eggplant and the rice,” Abou Alchamat explains. “Then flip it and remove the cling wrap from the top.”

Serving

Abou Alchamat adds a special touch to her maqluba by garnishing the dome with minced lamb and chopped nuts that have been fried in butter or ghee. A drizzle of yoghurt sauce mixed with mint, garlic, and cucumber finishes it off.

This weekend dish is equally thrilling to make as it is exciting to eat. Every region and every family in the Middle East might have its own spin on maqluba – yet love the dish all the same.

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

 

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