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Machboos- Kabsa- The Comfort Food of the Arabian Peninsula

posted on: Jun 23, 2021

Machboos- Kabsa- The Comfort Food of the Arabian Peninsula
The Comfort Food of the Arabian Peninsula Photo: Blanche Shaheen

By Blanche Shaheen / Arab America Contributing Writer

If you ask anyone in an Arab household how they would define comfort food, many would name some combination of meat, rice, onions and spices, garnished with toasted nuts like almonds and pine nuts. These foundational ingredients morph into different dishes depending on the region, from Maqlouba in Palestine, Sayadiyeh in Lebanon, to Mansaf in Jordan. The dishes are usually served on a communal platter, meant to be shared by large families. The countries of the Arabian Peninsula are no exception to this tradition, and the one comfort food popular In Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen is the classic dish called Kabsa, also known as Machboos.  

The name Kabsa comes from the word kabasa (Arabic: كبس‎), which  literally means to press or squeeze, alluding to the technique used in the cooking where the ingredients are all cooked in (or “squeezed into”) one pot. There are numerous variations of spices, but to get acquainted with the flavor, you can buy pre-mixed kabsa spices in the market. The spices used in kabsa or machboos generally include black peppercardamom, turmeric, allspice, dried lime, cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg. The main proteins used in this dish can range from chickengoatlambcamelbeeffish or shrimp. Garnishes include almondspine nutspeanuts, and sultanas

The recipe below uses prawns as the main protein for easy preparation, however you can use chicken or lamb if you prefer. The loomi spice, which is made with ground dried limes that have been brined and dried, is what really differentiates this dish. Loomi has a more complex flavor profile, which is tart and mildly sweet with a hint of vinegar. For this reason loomi is an excellent accompaniment to seafood.  The majority of limes used in loomi originate from  Iran, hence why loomi is popular in Persian cuisine as well. The bonus is loomi is rich in antioxidants, minerals like potassium, and folic acid.  

Homemade Prawn Machboos: Video and Recipe

For a video tutorial of this dish, click on the video below: 

Video by Blanche Shaheen/ Feast in the Middle East


Spice Mix 

1 tsp allspice  
1 tsp cumin  
1/2 tsp coriander  
1/2 tsp loomi  
1/4 tsp cardamom  
1/4 tsp nutmeg  
1 tsp turmeric  
1 tbsp olive oil  
Salt and pepper to taste  

Combine spice mix, and add 1 to 1 1/2 tsp  of the spice mix, salt and pepper to taste,  and the 1 tbsp olive oil to the shrimp. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes and refrigerate. 

Tomato Sauce and Rice 

1 small onion- chopped  
4 cloves garlic, minced  
1 medium to large tomato- chopped  
1/4 cup tomato paste  
2 cups rice  
1 1/3 cup water for rice (plus more for rinsing)  
2 Tbsp ghee  
1 Tbsp olive oil  
1/2 tsp loomi  
Salt and pepper to taste 

For Garnish:

Chopped cilantro 
Toasted pine nuts 

Rinse the rice 3 times, then soak for 30 minutes, then set aside. In a skillet, add 2 tbsp ghee, and saute until soft – at least 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the tomato, salt and pepper to taste, and loomi powder and saute for another 10 – 15 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked and soft. Now time for the rice. In a large pot, add 1 tsp of the spice mix with 1 tbsp olive oil. Combine until well mixed.  Drain the rice, and add the rice and 1/2 of the tomato ragu and combine. Pour in 1 3/4 cup water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. In the meantime, take out the prawns, and add them to the other half of the ragu in the skillet. Saute for about 3-4 minutes or until the prawns turn pink. 

To serve, add the rice to a plate, top with the prawns, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro and toasted pine nuts.  

Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine”  which you can order here:  She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can check out her cooking video tutorials at  Her recipes can also be found at 

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