Maqluba (or maqlooba, makloubeh, maqlouba - however you want to spell it!) is a famous middle eastern rice, vegetable and meat dish that will impress any guest. The unique thing about this dish is how it is carefully layered, cooked, then flipped upside down to reveal the delicious vegetables and meat. It's SO good! Don't be intimidated by how it looks, it's actually pretty easy to execute.
What is Maqluba, Maqlooba or Makloubeh?
Maqluba is a dish commonly made across various Arabic countries like Iraq (where I'm from), Palestine, Jordan and Syrian. Each household probably has their own way of preparing this famous dish. But one thing remains true amongst all versions: it's a layered dish using rice, vegetables and meat.
The idea behind layering the vegetables and meat underneath the rice then cooking everything together allows all the flavours to beautifully melt into each other. It's cooked low and slow to give time for the flavours to develop and to also prevent the vegetables from burning, since they're underneath the rice. Before we get into the recipe, let's address some common questions about Maqluba.
What type of vegetables to use
The vegetables used in maqluba are eggplant, potato, and cauliflower. Some versions use only cauliflower and eggplant, some use eggplant and potato, and some use all three. I find that these 3 vegetables give so much flavour that makes maqluba delicious. Then you can add other vegetables you have on hand. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this! I personally love adding onions and peppers because it amps up the vegetable flavours and adds a delicious sweetness. My mom also adds green beans or carrots if she has them. Tomato slices are also typically used at the very bottom of the pot to help prevent anything from sticking.
What type of meat can you use?
My favourite type of meat to use is pieces of lamb (shoulder or leg) or veal. I find that they're tender and create an amazing stock that is used to cook the rice. You can also use bone-in chicken pieces (any cut will do), which also turns out delicious.
I don't recommend using stew beef as it tends to be tougher and will take a lot longer to cook. However, you can use ground beef and I've seen that work out great too. As for the amount you add, the one listed in the recipe is the minimum amount. Add more if you like, depending on whether or not you love it more meaty.
The best type of rice for Maqluba
I always use long grain basmati rice for Maqluba. The reason for this is that we cook it low and slow, and we need the rice to be able to handle a long cooking time and additional moisture from the vegetables. Basmati rice works great and doesn't become mushy! However, you can certainly use medium grain rice or Egyptian rice and just adjust the rice to water ratio.
The recommended type of pot to use
The best tip I can give is to use a non-stick pot. It is MUCH easier to flip it and get a clean release. It helps to have a pot with straight edges and one that is more wide than narrow. This will ensure that the steam/heat doesn't have to travel as far up as it would if the pot was narrow and tall, and you get a more even cook on the rice. If the pot is really tall, the top layer of rice will be harder to cook through. If the only pot you have is a narrow one, try to make a smaller amount so you don't stack it too high!
Ingredients you need to make this recipe
The ingredients will depend on the type of meat you choose and what other vegetables to add. But for this recipe, I love using eggplant, potato, onion, pepper and tomatoes. I never skip any of those! You can also choose to add cauliflower with them or instead of the potato.
What spices are used in this dish?
I use whole spices to cook the meat in and create the stock. You don't have to use all of them, but I highly recommend using the cinnamon sticks, green cardamom, and bay leaves. I also like to throw in some whole allspice, peppercorns or cloves if I have them. And then when we cook the stock further I add in the turmeric, salt and black pepper.
There are other methods of maqluba where the uncooked rice is mixed with some ground spices such as turmeric, 7 spice (a Lebanese spice mix), or allspice. I don't do this because I find that the broth is really flavourful from the whole spices, and the traditional Iraqi method relies on a more subtle spice flavour and allows the vegetables to shine.
How to make maqluba step by step
Making maqluba is actually easy, but it requires several steps and pre-cooking and pre-seasoning the meat and vegetables before layering everything. Typically, vegetables are fried before layering. However, I love roasting them because its healthier and easier, yet still yields a delicious result. Here's how it goes:
- Prepare the eggplant and the potato by washing them, slicing them, drizzling with some oil and salt, then roasting them at 450F for 30 minutes. If you're using cauliflower, roast it the same way.
2. Get started on cooking the meat and creating the stock. Sear the meat in some oil, then add water and whole spices and pressure cook it (in my instant pot) for 10 minutes if using lamb or veal (less time if using chicken). If you don't have a pressure cooker, simply allow the meat to boil on medium high heat for 40-60 minutes, until tender. This will depend on the type of meat you have.
3. Prepare the onions and peppers by slicing them into thin wings and cooking them on the stove top with some salt and oil for a few minutes until they soften. If you're using other vegetables like green beans and carrots, add them in with the onions and peppers.
4. After the meat has cooked, remove it and set aside. Strain the stock from the whole spices and then add the turmeric, salt, pepper and tomato paste in. Mix well and add some water if you need to adjust the total amount of liquid you need for the rice you're cooking. You can do this in a pot or a bowl. The colour of the stock should be a deep orange.
5. Now you can start layering all the vegetables, meat and rice together in the pot. Start with a bit of oil drizzled on the bottom. Then add tomato slices, eggplant, potato, meat, onions and peppers, then the rice. Finally, pour the stock on top and it should come up to just above the rice.
6. Cook the maqluba on medium high heat for about 7 minutes until you start to see the water bubbling. Then immediately cover it and reduce the heat to low. Ensure your pot is covered well - you can also use a towel to cover it and ensure the steam doesn't escape. It will cook on low heat for 50 minutes.
7. Turn off the heat and allow the maqluba to rest for a few minutes. Then, using a flat tray with slightly raised edges, place it on top of the pot and using both hands to flip it over onto the tray. Keep the pot in place upside down for a few minutes to allow gravity to do the work. This will help keep the maqluba in shape. Then slowly start raising the pot to release the maqluba. You're done!
Troubleshooting your Maqluba
- My rice is undercooked, what do I do? If you find that you've cooked it for the specified period of time but the rice is still uncooked when you open your lid, simply splash it with ½ cup to 1 cup of water then close the lid and continue to cook it on low heat for a further 10 minutes. This will help steam the rice some more. The reason this might happen could be due to the type of pot you use or the type of rice. Most of the moisture will sink to the bottom leaving the top most layer of rice slightly underdone. It is most likely only the top most layer, with the rest of the rice being perfectly cooked underneath, so don't worry too much about it!
- I tasted my rice and it is under seasoned, what do I do? To help combat this problem, make sure that the stock you use to cook the rice is very well seasoned. When tasting it, it should taste pretty salty. However, if you find yourself in this situation, add a bit of salt (½ teaspoon or so) to some hot water (1 cup max), dissolve it, and then pour it on top of the maqluba. Cover it and allow it to steam a further 10 minutes.
How to make maqluba easier + make ahead tips
Maqluba is the perfect dish to serve at gatherings and dinner parties and impress your guests. And there's a lot you can do ahead of time to make it much easier on yourself. You can do any of the following or a combination to make the day-of preparations quicker:
- Roast the eggplant and potato (or cauliflower) ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days
- Either cut up the onions and peppers ahead of time and store in an airtight container or you can also cook them and store them, also for up to 2 days
- Cook the meat and create the broth ahead of time, store in an airtight container for up to 2 days
How to serve it
Maqluba is a stand alone dish and can be served with a cucumber yogurt salad, plain yogurt or with a simple green salad on the side. You can also whip up some fattoush or just make a quick salad using cucumber, tomato and onion with a lemon olive oil vinaigrette.
I also like to garnish it with some fried almonds for a delicious crunch and a bit of chopped parsley for colour. Completely optional but makes it more impressive, especially if you're hosting!
Other recipes you should try
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Maqluba (Makloubeh) with Lamb (Arabic rice dish)
For the meat and broth:
- 600 g - 900g of lamb or veal pieces approx. 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs per preference - see note 1
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 pods green cardamom
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 whole allspice or black peppercorn optional but recommended
- 4 whole cloves optional but recommended
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3.5 teaspoons salt
- 1.5 teaspoons black pepper
- 3 cups water
For the Eggplant:
- 2 eggplants approximately 700g
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the potato:
- 2 large potatoes or 4 small ones per preference
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
For the onions and peppers:
- 1 large onion
- 1 large bell pepper red or orange, not green
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the rice:
- 2.5 cups basmati rice
- 5.5 cups total liquid combination of the meat broth and additional water
- 1 tomato
For the garnish (optional):
- ½ cup slivered or blanched almonds or pine nuts
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- Start by preheating the oven to 450F
- Wash the eggplant and peel it every other stripe as shown in the ingredients photo. Cut into into thick slices, about half an inch thick
- Wash and peel the potatoes, and cut them into roughly half inch thick circles
- Place the eggplant and the potato on a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and combine them with the oil (the amounts under the ingredients section). Bake for 30 minutes.
- Wash the meat and sear it on medium high heat using the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the 3 cups of water and all the whole spices and pressure cook for 10 minutes. If you are not using a pressure cooker, boil on stove top covered on medium heat for 40-60 minutes until tender.
- Cut the onion and pepper into wings or slices. Cook with the oil in a pan over medium heat for 7 minutes until softened. Set aside.
- Once the meat is cooked, remove it and set aside. Strain the stock from the whole spices.
- To the hot stock (in a bowl or a pot), add the turmeric, salt, black pepper and tomato paste. Mix well to combine and add additional water to reach the 5.5 cups required. I do this by using a measuring cup to measure the total amount of stick then top it up with water until I reach 5.5 cups
- Wash the rice several times until the water runs clear. Drain it and set aside
- Cut the tomato into slices
- To layer the maqluba, start by adding 2 tablespoons of oil to the bottom of the pot, then add the tomato slices, followed by eggplant, potato, meat, onions and peppers, then the rice
- Pat the rice down firmly, then pour the stock on top. Pat down again using a wooden spoon to ensure the stock is fully covering the rice
- Place the pot on medium high heat and allow it to start bubbling, which should take 5 minutes or so
- Once it is bubbling, cover it and decrease the heat to low. Ensure the pot is well covered by also adding a towel on top, especially if your pot has any holes. Cook for 50 minutes.
- After 50 minutes, turn heat off and allow maqluba to rest for 5-10 minutes. If you open it and realize your top layer of rice is undercooked or under seasoned, read the troubleshooting section
- When ready to serve, find a large tray with raised edges and place it on top of the pot. Use both hands and place them on each handle while holding the tray down. In a swift motion, flip the pot over (have someone nearby to help you if you need it). Leave the pot flipped over the tray for a few minutes and allow gravity to slowly drop the maqluba
- Lift the pot very slowly to help keep it intact. Serve with yogurt or Jajik and enjoy!
- You can substitute chicken for the lamb or veal. Use the amount you like, but 600g at a minimum to get a good tasting stock
- You can cook the meat in a pressure cooker or instant pot for faster results. But if you don't have one, cook it on the stove top for 40-60 minutes until tender (or less for chicken)
- For the vegetables, you can increase the amounts listed if you prefer more (it will not impact the rice and liquid ratio, so leave those the same)
- Use a non stick pot with straight sides for best results
- If you're using short grain rice, there is a higher risk it will stick together and mush, therefore be sure to adjust the water ratio accordingly
- This recipe yields 6 generous adult servings. But it will depend on how much your household eats. You can halve or double the recipe by clicking numbers at the top right of the recipe card