Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Maqlouba, or Upside-Down Dinner

Mmmm . . . ma'loubi. 

The mouth-watering flavors of lamb, rice, and cauliflower, all simmered in cinnamon and allspice-seasoned broth was enough to make my children and their little friend all yelp "yum" when they walked in the door after playing outside.  When I inverted the steaming pot of food onto a platter and then sprinkled toasted almonds on top, they said excitedly, It's like a cake!  I allowed them to pick as many almonds off of the top as they wished.  Served with mounds of fresh plain yogurt, which of course, they could also not keep their fingers out of, this dish made for a very happy children dinner party.

Maqlouba - A Methodology

The word maqlouba is the classical Arabic word for  "upside down." And that is what this dish is - think pineapple-upside-down-cake, but instead, this is cauliflower-rice-meat-upside-down-dish.  In spoken Arabic, Palestinians often call this dish maqloubi, or, as we often do, replace the "q" for a glottal stop and just pronounce it ma'loubi

Maqloubi is more of a method than a particular recipe.  The components can be changed out - chicken pieces for the meat, eggplant for cauliflower, and so on.  Really, any vegetable and any meat can be used.  Also, the seasonings are flexible.  Some people prefer no seasonings other than salt and pepper. Every family has its own favorite recipe for ma'loubi, and most people will build rather substantial arguments about what list of ingredients really makes the best ma'loubi.  Chicken pieces or chunks of lamb or beef stew meat are the most common proteins and eggplant and cauliflower are probably the most common vegetable.  My mother has made this many ways, all of them delicious, adding in mushrooms, peas and carrots, and even sausages as the protein.  Usually, however, we ate this with cauliflower and either beef or chicken pieces.  This time, I made it with cauliflower and ground lamb and beef, because I thought that would be best for my little guests. 

I think of this as the Palestinian "casserole" - because of the revolving ingredients, and the resulting mixture of meat, vegetable and rice.  But let me tell you, this is no canned, sloppy nastiness.  This is wholesome, nourishing real food.  Real pastured meat, chunks of vegetables, soaked rice, all stewed in homemade broth makes this a highly nourishing and flavorful meal. 

May I make a few suggestions? 

No matter what ingredients you choose to feature, here are my tips for making the most flavorful ma'loubi:

*Season every ingredient as you prepare it.  Season your meat, cauliflower, and broth with salt, pepper, allspice and cinnamon.  If each element is tasty, the whole will be tasty.  If you don't season well, then the dish will be quite bland and you can't make up for that by throwing the seasonings on the top at the end.  It won't work. 

*Use homemade stock for the liquid--chicken, beef or lamb--for real, nourishing flavor. 

*At the bottom of the pot, arrange tomatoes in a single layer.  This will add flavor and will prevent your food from burning.  The tomatoes will probably not come out of the pot onto your dish, but be sure to eat them because they are tasty enough that we fight over them!  Even my daughter and her friend, who do not normally love tomatoes, enjoyed these. 


Layers of goodness: 



The moment of truth - inverting the pot

Maqlouba, with Cauliflower and Ground Meats

1 large head of cauliflower
4 tablespoon olive oil, more as needed
2 1/2 tsp allspice, divided
1 tsp cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup water
2 lbs grass fed lamb or beef, or a combination
2 cups white rice, soaked overnight
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon grassfed butter
2-3 tomatoes, sliced
4 cups unsalted beef broth, homemade preferred
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds (optional)

1.  Break cauliflower into large chunks and place in a pot.  Season with 1 tsp allspice, salt and pepper.  Pour in half a cup of water and cover the pot so that the cauliflower steams a little and softens, for about twenty minutes.  Once the cauliflower is slightly softened,  remove lid so that the water evaporates.  Add olive oil and fry until browned and fragrant.  Taste and check seasonings. 

2.  Meanwhile, brown the meat, breaking up with a spatula, season with 1 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon salt and pepper to taste.  Taste and check seasonings.

3.  Saute onion in butter until translucent; add to the beef mixture. 

4.  Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then drain. 

5.  Season the broth with 1/2 tsp allspice and 1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

6.  Grease the bottom of a 5 or 6 quart pot with oil or butter. Arrange tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Layer in beef and onion mixture, then cauliflower and then rice, gently packing down each layer.   Pour four cups of seasoned broth over the rice.  If you wish, you can season the top of the rice with additional cinnamon and allspice. 

7.  Cover and heat on the stove top over medium high heat for about five minutes, then turn down very low for about 1 hour, until the rice is tender.  About 45 minutes in, I like to gently stir the top layer of the rice into the rest of the rice so that it cooks more evenly.  Once finished, turn it off and let it sit for ten minutes. 

8.  Inverting:  Hold a flat, round platter over the top of your pot and invert in one swift move.  Remember to use oven mitts if your pot is still hot.  Let the pot sit on the platter for a minute, then slowly lift up!  Voila!  Sprinkle with nuts and serve. 

Even if your maqlouba doesn't cooperate and collapses in a pile on your platter, just sprinkle with nuts and serve anyway.  It will still be absolutely delicious. 

Serve with fresh plain whole yogurt, and a salad. 

May this dish double your health. 

Shared at Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday , Simple Lives Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, Tasty Traditions, Fight Back Friday .


  1. I love the sound of this! I've been waiting for a way to actually enjoy cauliflower so this may be the ticket. Will give it a try tomorrow. Thanks!

  2. Let me know how it turns out! I hope that you enjoy it. And I have a couple of more cauliflower recipes coming, so check back. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This was DELICIOUS. Everyone had at least 2 servings. I love how the cauliflower melted into the rice.

    I almost chickened out at the last minute on the upside-down part, and I probably should have because my platter wasn't big enough. So it was ugly and overflowing, but SO good. Thanks for turning our family on to the wonderful flavor of allspice!

    I plan to gush about your blog on FB soon...




    1. I am SO happy! I think that is the perfect description of the meal: the cauliflower melts into the rice. Especially great for children. I find this to be such an easy meal to feed kids.

      As for the inversion - mine came out pretty this time, but it rarely does . . . don't worry about it, it takes a little practice and experimenting with the size of the platter. I don't know if you can see in the picture, but I used a plate that fit exactly over my pot and inverted onto that, but then set that plate onto a larger platter before I pulled the pot off. Hard to explain, but easy to do.

      And allspice is an unsung hero in the West. I am so happy to introduce you and others to it.

      Thanks for the encouragement! I have been enjoying your blog, too, by the way. :)

  4. This looks so good! I regularly link up to Simple Lives Thursday and found your featured post. We love lamb, and have some ground in our freezer, I will have to give this a try when we can get a hold of some eggplant. I appreciate your suggestions, especially the first one to season every component. I had a friend who is a chef tell me the same thing. I've really tried to incorporate that into my cooking but frequently forget. Thank you for sharing this. I'm pinning to use hopefully someday soon.


  5. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny. I have learned to season with salt and pepper as I go because otherwise my food comes out bland or overly seasoned. This dish is particularly prone to that because it is has so many layers and your meat can be bland and your rice overly salty if you just thrown in a bunch of salt at the end! I've made that mistake a few times. :) Lamb and eggplant is a classic combination, so I'm sure it will be tasty. You might also want to check out my recipe for Mnezzali - and eggplant and beef or lamb dish. That's probably my favorite eggplant dish!

  6. Any suggestions if one can't eat rice? Substitute with quinoa maybe?

    1. I haven't tried it, but if you can eat bulgar, that might be a nice subsitution. Freekah is another traditional grain eaten by Palestinians - it's roasted green wheat. I love it. I bet that would also be delicious in this. If you can eat wheat, either of those options would be good. I'm pretty sure that quinoa would also be tasty. If you try any of these, let me know how it turns out. Thanks for the question!

  7. I hope you don't mind. I'm gathering recipes and other family friendly ideas on my new blog and I'd like to share this recipe there. It looks really yummy and I like how versatile it appears to be. Thank you! :D (dreamsofbarleycake.blogspot.com)

    1. Hi Diane,

      I am so happy that you like my recipes! Please feel free to post any links to my blog that you like, but I would prefer that you do not publish the whole recipe or post. Thank you!

  8. I grew up eating a version of Ma'loubi in Dubai, and now my children love it, too! I usually layer the spiced meat with raisins, then shredded carrots, chickpeas, and finally rice--pour water over and bake in the oven. It's a wonderful one-pot meal, with plenty of yogurt, of course. :) I've tried cauliflower in it before, but it turned out overcooked and made the rest of the dish seem a bit soggy . . . Maybe the stovetop works better for using cauliflower?

    1. I've only ever prepared this on the stove-top, since that was how I was taught to prepare this dish. It is easy to end up with a mushy dish if you add too much cooking liquid. I try to always go shy on the liquid, and add more later if necessary. Cooked cauliflower doesn't have much texture, so if you prefer, you can roast it in the oven instead of frying it, and that might give it a firmer texture for the final dish.


Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!