Sawsan Abu Farha
Have you ever cooked upside down?
Makloubeh (which translates literally into "upside down") is a famous Levantine one-pot rice, spice, and vegetable dish. You will find different variants of it throughout Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. The name makloubeh or upside down refers to the way this dish is served. You see, this dish is arranged and cooked in a pot and then it is flipped upside down to be served.
This is my favorite version, cauliflower chicken makloubeh, but you can use eggplants or a combination of eggplant and cauliflower, and you can add potatoes, carrots, or even chickpeas. Experiment and try different combinations and see which ones you like best.
Don’t like chicken? You can cook this using beef instead or skip the meat altogether and make it vegetarian.
*Note: If you want to avoid deep-frying the florets, brush them with olive oil or vegetable oil and place in a preheated 375 degree oven until fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Then, place them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to give them golden brown tops. Or, you can pan-fry them in batches in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat until golden brown.
Wash the rice and soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Drain and discard the water. Heat 2-inches vegetable oil over medium-high heat to 375 degrees.* Add the florets and cook until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.
In a pot, combine the chicken, onion, whole allspice berries, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick and then add enough water to submerge the chicken by about 1 ½ inches.
Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the chicken until the juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees, about 35-45 minutes for thighs and 45-55 minutes for breasts. (You can do this in a pressure cooker to save time; if you use a pressure cooker, 3-5 minutes after it starts to whistle is more than enough.) Drain and reserve the water for cooking the rice.
Add the olive oil to the same pot and swirl it all around so that it coats the bottom evenly. Add a thin layer of rice. Arrange the chicken on top of it and fill the gaps with rice. Add a layer of cauliflower, then top with the remaining rice.
Season with the salt, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, and ground cardamom. Gently add enough of the chicken cooking liquid to submerge the rice and rise by ½- to ¾-inch. (Make sure to do this gently so as not to disturb the layers.)
Cook over very low heat, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Do not allow it to boil or bubble since it will disturb the layers. (You can place a small plate on top of the last rice layer to help keep things in place.) Remove from heat and allow to cool in the pot for 20-40 minutes to help the layers hold together a little.
Place a serving dish on top of the pot and carefully flip the pot. You may tap the bottom of the pot gently to help the makloubeh slide off. Garnish with toasted almond and chopped parsley and serve it with yogurt or a simple salad.