Maqluba (Upside Down Layered Rice Cake with Vegetables) recipe and introduction from Lamees Dahbour of Mama Lamees
Cooking is a stress relief. I do it from the bottom of my heart; it just keeps reminding me of my mom. It’s the thing that makes people sit around one table. By serving food to someone you love, you show honesty, loyalty, and respect. I never ever thought to invite someone to my house and buy food from the outside.
Food is a gift from God, a blessing that we have to be thankful for. We have to be thankful for the farmers, so we can get our bowl of rice; it gives us health and strength and power. I always want to keep cooking. I don’t like doing dishes, but I want to keep cooking all day.
2 1/2 cups [500 g] basmati rice
1/2 cup [120 ml] vegetable oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into slices 3/4 inch [2 cm] thick
4 large carrots, cut into slices 1/2 inch [12 mm] thick
1 medium potato, cut into slices 3/4 inch [20 cm] thick
1/2 cup [60 g] slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
5 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
4 cups [960 ml] vegetable stock
Soak rice in a bowl of warm water with 1 tablespoon of salt.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Working in batches, add the eggplant to the hot oil and cook until golden brown. Season with salt and turn over once to brown the other side, about 5 minutes total. Remove from the oil and place on a cooling rack to drain. When all the eggplant slices have been browned, wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. Bring to medium heat again and add the carrot slices. Cook until golden on both sides and slightly tender, seasoning with salt and turning once, about 3 minutes. Set the carrot slices on the cooling rack to drain. Wipe out the pan and heat another 2 tablespoons oil.
Add the potato slices, season, and cook until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes. Wipe out the pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and brown the almonds. Be careful not to burn the almonds, as they will brown rather quickly, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a paper towel to drain. Wipe out the pan.
Drain the rice. In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, add the rice and 1 teaspoon of salt, and stir, cooking off the moisture over medium heat, about 4 minutes.
Add all the spices, stirring well to coat the rice and cooking until the spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer half the rice to a bowl and reserve.
Smooth out the surface of the rice remaining in the pot. Reduce the heat to low and arrange the vegetables in layers over the rice in the pot, starting with the potatoes and ending with the eggplant, each vegetable in its separate layer. Add the reserved rice and smooth out the surface in an even layer. Pour in the stock and use a plate large enough to press down and apply pressure in an even layer to the surface of the dish. This will help keep the rice and vegetables in a compact layer. Keep the plate on and pour in the remaining stock around the edges of the plate.
Once the liquid starts to simmer, carefully remove the plate. Cover the pot with its lid and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow to cook, without stirring, until any liquid has been absorbed and the rice grains are tender, about 30 minutes. Let stand covered for 10 minutes.
Use a spatula around the sides of the pot to loosen the vegetables and rice away from the edge. Using potholders, carefully turn the pot over onto a large plate and allow to sit inverted like this for at least 5 minutes. Lift the pot and garnish the maqluba with the toasted almonds.
Serve with any meat or vegetable dish, grilled or cooked in sauce.
Reprinted from We Are La Cocina by Leticia Landa and Caleb Zigas with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019
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