Maqloubi (upside-down chicken and rice pilaf) is a hidden gem in the Middle East. Maqloubi (also spelled maqluba or maklouba) is one of my favourite dishes for either dinner parties or just a casual family weekend dinner. It’s a traditional recipe originating from Palestine, but it’s also quite popular in Syria and Lebanon.
There are two main things that make this dish so unique: first, the layering of rice, meat, and vegetables that give it a cake-like look, and second, the heart-stopping moment when you flip the pot onto a serving plate to reveal your beautiful creation.
Peel and slice the eggplants lengthways approximately 1 cm thick. If you cut them too thin, they won’t hold their shape and fall apart while assembling in the pot. Salt them well and place them upright in a colander for at least 1 hour to drain the water.
To make the chicken, place the whole chicken along with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot. Cover generously with water and bring to a boil, skimming off any froth. Then, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the broth and set it aside. Strain the broth through a fine sieve and season with salt. Set aside the stock.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove, and discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat into large pieces.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small pan over medium-high heat and fry the pine nuts, stirring constantly, until golden. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the frying pan along with the slivered almonds. Fry, stirring constantly, until golden. Drain together with the pine nuts.
Press the eggplant with a paper towel until dry. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep saucepan. Cook the eggplants in batches for 3-4 minutes or until brown in colour. Remove and drain on paper towels. There’s no need to season the eggplant with salt.
Meanwhile, while the eggplant is cooking, soak the rice for 10 minutes. Drain, season with salt and Arabian spice/Baharat or Allspice.
Now that all the elements are ready and you’re familiar with the 9 tips and tricks for maqloubi, we’ll begin to layer.
Start with a small sprinkle of rice at the bottom of a 6-litre capacity non-stick pot. This will help prevent the potatoes from sticking and burning. Layer with the potatoes (these are to die for at the end of cooking time).
Line the sides of the pot with eggplant slices so they are overlapping. The eggplant slices will sit just over the potatoes.
Spread about half of the cooked chicken over the potatoes, followed by half of the remaining eggplants, and sprinkle half of the rice over the top.
Repeat with the remaining chicken, eggplant, and rice in the same order. Gently pour over 5-6 cups of the strained chicken stock over a skimmer or a large serving spoon to cover. Add more stock or water if needed to bring the liquid to the level of the rice (remember you need the stock just to cover the rice).
Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil (this will take approximately 10 minutes). Once boiling, reduce the heat to a low and cook for a further 45 minutes or until all the stock has been absorbed. Turn the heat off and let the pot rest for at least 10 minutes before the heart-stopping flip.
Place a large flat serving dish on top of the pot and invert the pot onto the dish in one smooth motion (you may need a helping hand here). If liquid seeps out, spoon it out or soak it up with paper towels. Let the pot rest upside down for at least 1 minute before slowly lifting off.
Garnish with pine nuts and slivered almonds.