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Maqluba--The Paella of Palestine

posted on: Jan 29, 2020

Maqluba (Layered rice dish with lamb, onions, and cauliflower)

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

I truly miss my grandfather, or “sido.” He taught me to appreciate farmers’ markets and was the type of man to wear a three-piece suit every day, strike up conversations with strangers and then charm them with his sense of humor. He made friends with people he met on his travels all over the world, and when they visited him he would make this spectacular dish called Maqluba.

Maqluba is an upside-down Palestinian rice ”cake” with either chicken or lamb, cauliflower, caramelized onions, and any other vegetables from eggplant to carrots. The drama happens when you flip the whole dish upside down, as Maqluba means “upside-down” in Arabic. The whole dish is crowned with toasted almonds and or pine nuts. Because of the communal nature of eating Maqlouba, this delicacy is perfect for entertaining guests.  

Maqluba goes back centuries and a version of the recipe is even found in the medieval Kitab al-Tabikh, or Arabic Book of Cooking, a collection of 13th-century recipes. Today this dish has become so popular that people eat this specialty throughout much of the Arab world, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and in Kurdish areas too. 

Traditionally, this dish required frying the cauliflower. In this lighter recipe below, the cauliflower is broiled instead with a light brush of olive oil. Do not worry if your “cake” falls apart, the taste will still amaze your guests leaving them clamoring for that last bit of braised meat and flavor soaked rice. This dish is usually served with greek yogurt on the side, and each diner can adjust the amount of yogurt they wish on their heap of maqluba. 

While my grandfather is long gone, this dish brings back beautiful memories of our time together, feasting on Maqluba. Hopefully, this recipe will inspire you to create new food traditions with your loved ones as well. 

Ready for a taste adventure? To see how they make maqluba in Palestine, click on the video below:

To see a video tutorial of how to make this dish, click on the video below:

Recipe for MAQLUBA

2 1/2 cups long-grain or basmati rice

1 ½ pounds lamb chops or dark meat chicken with the bones

Garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp allspice, divided

2 large heads cauliflower

2 large onions, sliced (or 3 medium onions)

Plus 1 medium onion, diced

5 garlic cloves

¼ of a cinnamon stick

2 tsp turmeric, divided

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp. Olive oil with extra for brushing cauliflower

2 tbsp  Butter

2 large tomatoes, sliced


8 ounces Greek yogurt for topping  (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut up the heads of cauliflower into small florets. Spread them out on a baking sheet and brush each with olive oil. Season with salt, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until browned. Set aside. Next take the lamb chops or chicken and season each with a rub of salt, pepper, garlic powder 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp allspice. Heat one tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a large deep pan until melted. Sear the chicken or lamb on both sides just until they have a nice golden color. The meats should be browned on the outside, but still not cooked on the inside. You will finish cooking the meats in a broth. Transfer the meats to a deep pot. To the same pot add enough water to cover the meats by about 3 inches. Then add the bay leaves, 1 tsp of allspice,  1 tsp turmeric, the garlic cloves, the cinnamon stick, and the one diced onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture boil, then reduce heat and boil for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, heat another tbsp each oil and butter in the skillet, saute the two sliced onions until caramelized. 

In a second pot, slice the tomatoes and put the slices in the bottom of the pan. Then top with only ½ cup of the rice. Then using tongs,  pile on all of the meats from the broth after having been cooked for 30 minutes. Top the meat with the roasted cauliflower, and then the caramelized onions. Top the whole thing with the remaining 2 cups of rice. Now take 4 ½ cups of the strained broth from the other pot, and cover the rice, meat, and cauliflower mixture with it. Then add the turmeric, 1 tsp allspice, more salt and pepper to taste, and garlic cloves. Wait until the water boils, then let it boil for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat and cook the mixture on low heat for another 45 minutes or until the rice is fluffy. Keep checking to make sure the rice does not dry out. You may have to add more meat stock depending on the strength of your stove. Once the rice is cooked, invert the pot onto a large serving tray after letting the pot of maqluba sit for at least 30 minutes. Scoop servings into individual bowls, and top each with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Shortcuts of Maqluba:

You can add the sliced onions to the cauliflower and brush both vegetables with olive oil as you broil them together. This takes out the step of separately having to caramelize the onions.  You can also put all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and use store-bought beef or chicken broth and add to the meat and rice and veggies. This saves time on making a meat broth as I described above. 



Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and a cookbook author. For more authentic and classical Middle Eastern recipes, you can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal  Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE: 


To  check out her cooking video tutorials and other recipes follow Blanche on


Her blog at:  




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