Maqluba is a casserole with rice, lamb or chicken, and eggplant which is commonly served in Bedouin homes. The casserole, after it has finished cooking, is carefully flipped over onto a serving dish and served upside-down. Maqluba in Arabic literally means “upside-down.”
There are over 110,000 Bedouins living in the Negev so Bedouin culture adds a unique dynamic to the desert’s ethnic landscape. I first had this dish at the home of a Bedouin friend and classmate from Ben Gurion University. We ate it in traditional Bedouin style, reclining on floor pillows and eating just with our hands by scooping bites of rice and meat up into our mouths. I’ll never forget when I asked her how to cook it she said, “if the oil isn’t dripping down your forearms than you didn’t make it right.”
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced to ½ inch thickness
2 cups Basmati rice
5 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
2 ½ tsp salt, divided
½ tsp allspice
¾ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp black pepper, divided
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp nutmeg
3-4 cups water
oil for deep frying
3 large tomatoes, sliced (optional)
½ cup pine nuts, fried
1) Lay the eggplant slices on paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt. Allow them to “sweat” for 30 minutes and then pat slices dry with paper towels.
2) Wash the rice and soak in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3) In a large skillet, heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to the med-low, add the lamb, 1 ½ tsp salt, allspice, cinnamon, ¼ tsp pepper, turmeric, bayleaf, and nutmeg. Brown for 10 minutes, turning the lamb. Add 3-4 cups of water to cover the lamb and cook until the lamb is very tender, about 2 ½ hours. When lamb is tender remove it and the onion from the skillet and set aside. Reserve the meat stock.
4) While lamb is cooking, heat the frying oil to 375 degrees in a deep-fryer or deep skillet. Deep-fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes, turning once. Drain eggplant on paper towels and set aside.
5) Grease with olive oil a three quart heavy saucepan (10 inches in diameter).
6) Arrange the tomatoes slices on the bottom (if using). Sprinkle ½ cup of the rice on top of the tomatoes. Layer the lamb on top, and then layer the sliced eggplant on top of the meat. Press layers down with your hand. Pour the remaining rice on top and spread it evenly, pressing down again with your hands. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper.
7) Pour 2 cups of reserved lamb stock evenly over the top of casserole. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and cook for 45-50 minutes.
8) Remove from heat but let the dish sit, still covered, for 15 minutes. Take off the lid and invert a large round serving platter over the top of the saucepan and flip it over, holding both sides. Lift saucepan carefully so the rice and meat are transferred to the serving dish upside down.
9) Fry pine nuts in olive oil and sprinkle over the rice dish. Serve.
Recipe by Shelley Neese, managing editor of The Jerusalem Connection.
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