If I could pin my childhood down to one food memory, it would undoubtedly be Maqloobeh for dinner. It was the one dish that I never got sick of, and my favourite of everything my mum cooked. She made Maqloobeh to comfort me during times where I was having a hard time at school. She made Maqloobeh to warm my stomach and to let me know that no matter how upset I was, being at home and eating food that reminded me of the huge family that I had supporting and loving me was all that I needed to feel content.
As i’ve mentioned before, my Mum is Palestinian, and has raised me up cooking some key Palestinian dishes that have shaped my love for food. This is THE recipe that encompasses everything Palestinian food means to me, and is the national dish of Palestine. It’s poor man’s food; rice, meat and cauliflower. It’s made traditionally with lamb’s leg or shoulder, cheaper cuts of meat that have to be slow cooked to attain the soft texture (suitable for traditional Arab housewives who live to cook!)
My tetta (grandma) is the queen of making Maqloobeh. She has her different versions, with eggplant instead of cauliflower, with chicken instead of lamb. Mum always prepared it with lamb chops instead of a leg of Lamb, but using the leg provides for bigger, more tender morsels of meat. Tetta presents her Maqloobeh so beautifully. She pulls apart the chicken and lines a bundt tin with it. She then fills it with cauliflower and the cooked rice and turns it over to reveal its beautiful shape. She then tops it with loads of buttery, toasted almonds and pine nuts. Its so beautiful watching her bring it to the table with a huge smile on her face, knowing that she has succeeded, and confident that it tastes amazing! I remember one time when Mum and Dad were on holidays, Tetta’s car pulled up in the drive way. I was so surprised and ran out to the car to meet her. She told me that she had cooked us some dinner, so I opened her boot and found an enormous pot wrapped in tea-towels to keep it warm. I carried it as if it were a new born, walked inside and placed it on the counter, slowly opening the lid to see what she had made. Long behold, it was a steaming pot of freshly cooked Maqloobeh. She knew the way straight to my heart, and how to comfort me whilst my parents were away.
Mum has not only cooked Maqloobeh for me and my family, but for her friends as well. It’s become a favourite of so many, because it is just so yummy!
So here’s what’s it it:
500g medium grain rice (soak for 20 minutes)
1 large leg of lamb
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamon pods
allspice powder (1 teaspoon of allspice berries if you have some)
2 Tbsp samneh (which is arabic clarified butter, but store bought ghee will do)
1 cup toasted almonds to garnish
1 head cauliflower
Natural yogurt to serve
One large heavy based pot with a lid (I used a bessemer pot which I find works best with this type of food)
To begin, cut up the leg of lamb into large chuncks and brown in a pan with 1 Tbsp Samneh, cardamon, cinnamon and allspice. Once browned, add water to cover the lamb and a quartered onion. Simmer with the lid on for 3 hours (or as long as you can).
Meanwhile, pull apart the cauliflower into florets, add some salt and some oil spray and bake in a 200 degree oven until softened (traditionally, the cauliflower is deep fried to add flavour, but this is a much healthier version).
Once lamb is softened, pull out the lamb, onion and cinnamon sticks and place onto a plate to cool. Pour the stock into a bowl.
Place one Tbsp samneh into the pot and add the rice. Fry until the outside of the rice is slightly browned. Then, take the rice out of the pan and layer the meat, then cauliflower into the pan. Add some salt over the meat and cauliflower, then pour the stock back in until it reaches just above the rice (if there is not enough stock, you can add some boiling water).
Turn the stove on high and let the Maqloobeh come to a boil, then turn the stove down to a medium-low heat and put the lid on the pot. The Maqloobeh will need to simmer away for about 1/2 an hour for the rice to cook, but keep an eye on it.
Once cooked and slightly cooled, turn the pot upside down onto a platter to unveil the lovely meat and cauliflower that was placed at the bottom of the pot. Top with toasted almonds and serve with some natural yogurt.
Cover the meat and cauliflower with the pre-soaked and browned rice
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Although Arabic food is not the most glamorous of foods, I hold the opinion that the Arab cuisine has some of the tastiest dishes in the world. Arabs are renowned for their robust, hearty rice dishes packed with nuts, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon, and the list goes on. Flavour is definitely not lacking, even in their traditional peasant food! This feast was one of my favourites! We were travelling around Amman, Jordan in the midst of a rainy winter visiting family. After a long day we settled at my mum’s cousin Sami’s house for a classic Jordanian dinner; Arabic style rice topped with chicken, nuts, peas and carrot, a simple salad, big bowls of plain yogurt and a two huge platters of Kibbeh. It was a feast that I will never forget.
Growing up in Sydney, a trip to Granville with my Teta and Mum was a fortnightly must. It always fascinated me that I could experience the Arab world in a suburb only half an hour from my house. After hours of being lugged around Arabic grocery stores and the ‘quick’ trip to the Arab butcher, I was always promised a hot Mana’ish (or Zatar bread) at the end of it all. The sour oregano mixture on top of hot puffed flat bread never failed to re-ignite my happy childish self after a long day of grocery shopping. So when I came across Mana’ish on a long narrow street of the old city of Jerusalem, memories of my childhood trips to Granville returned and an instant feeling of warmth came over my winter-struck body.