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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Nothing says Arabic food like Arabic bread. A meal is never ever complete without it! But unlike the arabic bread that we find in Sydney that is flat and soft, the bread that I found in Jerusalem was thick and rough, burnished over an open flame. As a kid I remember emergency calls from my Teta to my Mum, begging her to pick up 10 bags of arabic bread on our way to Teta’s house. Bread in my grandparents household was some what a security blanket. It was something that took my grandparents back to when they were young and living in Palestine. It made them remember coming home to steaming hot bread, fresh out of their mothers wood-fired ovens that immediately satisfied.